SYDNEY – Canberra has lodged an official protest with Tokyo after a ship from Japan’s whaling fleet entered Australia’s exclusive economic zone in the Southern Ocean near Macquarie Island.
The Shonan Maru No. 2, a support vessel for the whalers, strayed into Australian waters Thursday, prompting Canberra to protest the incident the following day. The whaling fleet left for the Antarctic Ocean in late December, hoping to catch up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales.
“The government strongly objects to whaling vessels passing through Australian territorial seas or our exclusive economic zone,” Environment Minister Tony Burke said. “Australia has made it clear to Japan on a number of occasions that vessels associated with its whaling program are not welcome in Australia’s exclusive economic zone or territorial sea.
“Our embassy in Tokyo has conveyed these sentiments directly to the Japanese government.”
Australia is strongly opposed to whaling and launched legal action challenging the basis of Japan’s so-called scientific research hunt in December 2010. The annual hunts are conducted by exploiting a loophole in the international ban on whaling, but Japan makes no secret that the meat ultimately ends up on dinner plates.
Militant antiwhaling group Sea Shepherd is again tracking the Japanese whalers this year, and its vessels have already departed from Australia to track down the fleet. On Wednesday, Sea Shepherd said it had located the harpoon ship Yushin Maru No. 3 at a relatively northern latitude, adding it is now tailing the whalers.
Meanwhile, Sea Shepherd members aboard the Bob Barker had been pursuing the Nisshin Maru factory vessel but lost track of it because the Shonan Maru No. 2 began shadowing the group’s vessel. It was during this time that the Shonan Maru No. 2 strayed into Australia’s territorial waters, officials said.
“When the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker made contact with the factory ship, this ship (the Shonan Maru No. 2) tailed the Bob Barker and has been doing so for a couple of days,” said Bob Brown, who took over the helm of the group’s antiwhaling campaign from fugitive Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson in January.
Brown, the founder of Australia’s Greens party, praised Canberra for raising the incursion with Tokyo, saying: “This vessel has armed personnel aboard. It is an affront to Australia that it is entering our territorial waters surrounding the World Heritage-listed Macquarie Island, which is part of Tasmania (state).”
In December, the Australian government revealed that its legal challenge to Japan’s whaling operations should be heard this year by the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Both Canberra and Tokyo have filed detailed written arguments with the U.N. court and a hearing is anticipated in the latter half of 2013.