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Australia threatens Japan over its whaling program, sets November deadline for it to stop

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia

Australia's prime minister on Friday set a November deadline for Japan to stop its research whaling program that kills hundreds of whales a year in Antarctic waters, or else face international legal action.

Australia, a staunch anti-whaling nation, has long threatened international legal action. Two years ago, it sent a ship to Antarctic waters to follow the Japanese whaling fleet and collect videos and photographs it said might be used as evidence in an international forum.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Australia would prefer to use diplomatic means to persuade Japan to end its hunt.

"If that fails, then we will initiate court action before the commencement of the whaling season in November 2010," he told the Seven Network. "That's the bottom line and we're very clear to the Japanese. That's what we intend to do."

Japan hunts hundreds of mostly minke whales -- which are not an endangered species -- in Antarctic waters each year under its whaling research program, an allowed exception to the International Whaling Commission's 1986 ban on commercial whaling. Whale meat not used for study is sold for consumption in Japan, which critics say is the real reason for the hunts.

Rudd's threat came on the eve of a visit to Australia by Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada. Whaling is expected to be a key topic of conversation when Okada meets with Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith this weekend. Japanese officials did not immediately have any comment ahead of the visit.

Australia has said it could argue that Japan's whaling is illegal before the International Court of Justice at The Hague or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, Germany.

The whaling is conducted in international waters, but usually within the huge patch of ocean that is designated Australia's maritime rescue zone and that Canberra considers a whale sanctuary.

Don Rothwell, a professor of international law at the Australian National University, was commissioned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare in 2005 to explore Australia's legal options in its fight to end whaling. His report was later presented to the Australian and New Zealand governments.

Rothwell said Australia could request the courts grant an immediate injunction requiring Japan to stop whaling. Either court would almost certainly grant the injunction, which would remain in place until the case was resolved, he said.

On Wednesday, a group of conservationists clashed with Japanese whalers in the Antarctic Ocean, the most recent in a string of increasingly aggressive confrontations between the U.S.-based activist group Sea Shepherd and the whaling fleet.

Sea Shepherd activists threw bottles of butyric acid at Japanese whalers and blasted their ship with paint, while the Japanese returned fire with water cannons. No one was injured, but Japan condemned the conservationists' actions as dangerous and violent. Sea Shepherd officials said they are simply doing what is necessary to protect whales.

This month, Japan said three crew members on one of its whaling vessels suffered face and eye injuries from an acid attack.

On Monday, Sea Shepherd activist Peter Bethune jumped aboard the Shonan Maru 2 from a Jet Ski with the stated goal of making a citizen's arrest of the ship's captain and presenting him with a $3-million bill for the destruction of the Ady Gil.

He was taken into custody by the whalers and will face charges in Japan of trespassing and assault.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said officials had spoken with Bethune by telephone Thursday and were assured he was being treated properly. Bethune indicated he was happy to remain on board the Shonan Maru II and return to Japan with the vessel, McCully said.

On Feb. 6, Sea Shepherd's ship the Bob Barker and a Japanese harpoon boat collided, causing minor damage to both vessels. And in January, a Japanese whaler struck Sea Shepherd's high-tech speedboat Ady Gil, which sank a day later. No one was seriously injured in those incidents.

-- Associated Press

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Photo: Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd speaks about the effects of rising sea levels during the Pacific Islands Forum on Aug. 5. Credit: Torsten Blackwood / AFP/Getty Images

Video: A minke whale swims with dolphins and fish in the waters between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. Credit: norfolkisland via YouTube

Comments () | Archives (4)

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The Japanese must think that the world is really stupid! Research indeed! And the whaling commission must be getting paid off by the Japanese which would explain why this "loophole" of research is still open.

Japan doesn't even try to tell its own citizens that this whaling is "research". They know that this is pure commercial whaling. Australia has done nothing for years about this even though they claim the waters where Japan whales is considered an Australian whale sanctuary.

Thank God Australia is finally asserting their territorial claims. Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherds have been challenging these Japanese pirates for years. It's about time international pressure is brought to bear.

The "loophole" as you like to call it, really is article VIII and was in place at the formation of the IWC in 1946. It is the moratorium that is the johnny come lately to this issue. The moratorium was supposed to be for ten years and has remained in place far longer against the advice and recommendations of the Scientific Commitee within the IWC.

Rudd realizes there is an election on the horizon and he has done nothing to honor campaign promises made the last go around regarding whaling. There is good reason for his reluctance to assert Australia's rights in the Antarctic. They have much to potentially lose if they should try. Under the Antarctic Treaty System, which Australia signed in 1962, all existing territorial claims were to be neither disputed nor recognized by the signators of the treaty. In addition, no new claims are to be asserted. The establishment of the 200 mile EEZ in the area of the Australian Antarctic territory is a violation of the new claims provision of the ATS. The Australian whale sanctuary, that Australia claims exists in the area, violates this as well. Only four countries in the world recognize Australia's new claims in the Antarctic; but as long as Australia does not press the issue, the rest of the world doesn't seem to mind what Australia claims. This is not a dog that Australia should kick and wake up. The lives of 600 non endangered minke whales are not worth the political and territorial risk.

It only took two months to put this story to rest but the news is out the Aussies court threat is hollow reelection posturing.

"The Federal Opposition has accused the Government of secretly ditching any possibility of taking Japan to court over whaling."

"environment spokesman Greg Hunt says there is no money in the federal budget for the court case". The budget papers - which are a test of a Government's seriousness - have dropped all money for a case against Japan.
The budget papers have dropped all reference to a case against Japan in the purpose, the intention, the goal of our marine mammal conservation program."



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