Whaling fleet yet to depart

Delay of Antarctic hunt tied to inability to secure willing refueling ship

by Minoru Matsutani

The whaling fleet has not yet left for the Antarctic Ocean, making this year’s departure unusually late.

The fleet has set sail between Nov. 6 and Nov. 19 in each of the last 10 years.

The Fisheries Agency, the Institute of Cetacean Research and whaling company Kyodo Senpaku declined comment on the fleet’s schedule or why the departure has been delayed.

Greenpeace Japan official Wakao Hanaoka and Junichi Sato said it is probably due to difficulty in finding a refueling ship.

“Kyodo Senpaku lost the refueling ship it had been using, and it is difficult to find a ship owner who will take the risk of being associated with internationally condemned whaling activities,” Hanaoka said.

Kyodo Senpaku, which employs the fishermen and conducts the actual hunt, is hired by the research institute, an organization under the Fisheries Agency.

Kyodo Senpaku can’t use the oiler Hiyo Maru No. 2, which it had been using until last April, because its owner, Daito Trading Co., sold the 31-year-old ship to a foreign company in August.

“The ship is too old to operate,” Daito Trading official Yoshikazu Kurashige said.

Hanaoka and Sato said Kyodo Senpaku may shorten this year’s hunt if it can’t find a new refueling ship.

The Fisheries Agency and the Institute of Cetacean Research and Kyodo Senpaku declined to comment.

The whaling fleet normally arrives in the Antarctic Ocean in late November to mid-December and starts the return voyage in March, arriving back in Japan in April.

Pressure has been intensifying for Japan to cut down on whaling. The International Whaling Commission submitted a proposal in April for Japan to decrease its whaling quota in the Antarctic from the current about 800 to about 200 in 10 years, while the inventory of frozen whale meat has increased.

Australia in May launched legal actions at the International Court of Justice in the Hague to stop Japan’s research whaling in the Antarctic.

Japan says the program complies with Article 8 of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which stipulates that signatory countries can allow their nationals to kill, take and treat whales for the purpose of research, and such killing is exempt from curbs under the convention.

The stockpile of frozen whale meat increased to 5,670 tons, the most since at least 1999, across Japan in September, up from last year’s average stockpile of 4,246 tons, according to Fisheries Agency statistics. It rose steadily from 1,453 tons in 1999, the oldest available figure, to 4,611 tons in 2006.

The Nisshin Maru, the whaling fleet’s mother ship, is currently moored at Innoshima port in Hiroshima Prefecture, said an official of Universal Shipbuilding Corp., which provides maintenance for the vessel.

The Fisheries Agency, the Institute of Cetacean Research and Kyodo Senpaku declined to say anything about the whaling schedule “for safety reasons,” officials of the three bodies said.

Japan caught 506 minke whales and a fin whale in the Antarctic during last winter’s season, which ran from December to March. The catch has been decreasing due to obstruction by the radical environmental group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Greenpeace puts more effort into stopping whaling in the Antarctic than it does in the Northwest Pacific. Hanaoka said this is because whaling in the Antarctic is on a larger scale and takes place in a whale sanctuary.

Greenpeace doesn’t approve of the dolphin hunt in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, and other prefectures, but it is low on the group’s agenda because there are other, more serious problems involving coastal fishing, such as killing dolphins, birds and the wrong fish by mistakenly catching them in fishing nets, he said.

Armed guardsmen

Kyodo News

Armed Japan Coast Guard ranks will be aboard Japanese whaling vessels for the first time in three years to prevent sabotage by antiwhaling activists, a top official of the fisheries ministry said Thursday.

The plan to have armed coast guardsmen aboard whaling vessels set to sail soon to Antarctic waters for the fiscal 2010 season was revealed at a press conference by Nobutaka Tsutsui, senor vice minister for agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

Three coast guardsmen were deployed aboard whaling vessels for security purposes for the first time in fiscal 2007.

Tsutsui also said the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is stepping up its activities against Japan’s so-called research whaling.

The Fisheries Agency has not disclosed when or from where the whaling fleet will depart.

Japan halted commercial whaling in 1986 in line with an international moratorium, but has hunted whales since 1987 for what it calls scientific research purposes. Environmentalists have condemned the activity as a cover for commercial whaling, because meat from the catch is put on the market.