sea shepherd, japan whaling,
Winston Tan/AP
Sea Shepherd’s flagship, the Steve Irwin

Activists Say They Found Japanese Whaling Fleet

December 22, 2008 07:28 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s ship, the Steve Irwin, has found Japan’s research fleet a month after leaving port—much earlier than expected.

Justice Ministry Threatens Arrests

Antiwhaling activists claim that Japan’s research fleet is “on the run” after being discovered recently, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Monday.

“We know where they are. We’ll keep them running,” said Captain Paul Watson of the Steve Irwin in an interview with the Morning Herald.

Locating the research vessels usually takes several weeks, and the quick discovery brought Watson, “closer to his ambition of shutting down the fleet’s activities for weeks on end,” the paper said.

Such disruptions could cost the activists, though. Japanese media has already reported that Japan’s fisheries agency and justice ministry officials have decided to arrest antiwhaling activists if they try to board Japan’s whale-hunting fleet in the Antarctic Ocean, according to Reuters.

The decision was announced days after the Steve Irwin, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s flag ship, set sail from Australia earlier this month.

Japanese crew members will capture activists and turn them over to the Japanese coast guard, after which they will be charged with forcible obstruction of business under Japanese law, according to the report.

This year’s hunt is also attracting celebrity attention. On Dec. 2, actress Darryl Hannah announced plans to lend her support to the antiwhaling activists. Hannah, who plans to board the Steve Irwin for part of its journey, criticized environmental activist group Greenpeace for deciding not to take part in the annual confrontaion with Japan’s whaling expedition.

“If Greenpeace would join forces with Sea Shepherd they would shut down the whaling industry right away. If they were really serious and held their convictions they could accomplish this,” Hannah said, according to Reuters. Greenpeace has in previous years joined the antiwhaling campaign, but has also criticized Watson’s tactics.

Background: Sea Shepherd’s quest against Japanese whaling

Sea Shepherd said in November that it has encountered hostility entering Australia, which has allegedly been pressured by Japan to crack down on antiwhaling activists.

Watson said that he was having trouble with immigration in Australia for the first time, as he was detained at the Sydney airport for questioning, and told The Age that he believed the treatment was a “passive-aggressive approach” to keep the activist organization out of Australia.

The new treatment coincided with a request from Japan at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference for Australia to tighten the monitoring of antiwhaling organizations.

The Steve Irwin was scheduled to set sail from Brisbane at the end of November and to arrive in the Antarctic in mid-December. A Sea Shepherd press release said that the organization is determined to do whatever it can on the water to cut into Japanese profits from whaling, as it believes that is the only way to discourage continued whaling.

The Japanese claim that the trips are research-based, but the research involves killing the whales and Sea Shepherd asserts that the trips are a guise for a robust whaling industry.

The Japanese whaling industry is continually confronted with opposition from environmental groups. In mid-November, Greenpeace launched a ship also intended to challenge Japanese whaling boats in the Antarctic.

In March, as a response to Sea Shepherd’s activities, Japan protested Australia’s plan to kill 400 kangaroos in order to protect grasslands, accusing the country of hypocrisy.

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