Tokyo (AFP) April 12, 2010
The last ship of Japan's Antarctic whaling fleet sailed home Monday with the lowest catch in years, a shortfall whalers blamed on high-seas clashes with the militant environmental group Sea Shepherd.
The mother ship the Nisshin Maru sailed into Tokyo harbour, the last of the five harpoon ships to come home after they set sail in November, its hull splattered with blood-red paint thrown by the protesters.
The fleet's catch of 507 whales was down sharply on last year's cull of 680 and below the target of about 850, said Japan's Fisheries Agency, which blamed a total of 31 days of harassment by the Sea Shepherd group.
It was the smallest catch on record except for the 2006-07 expedition when the fleet caught only 505 whales after a fire aboard a ship hampered whaling operations.
This season's confrontations in icy Antarctic waters saw the sinking of a Sea Shepherd vessel and the arrest of one of its activists, a New Zealander who faces trial in Japan for assault, trespass and three other charges.
Whalers and their opponents also blasted each other with water cannons, while activists hurled rancid butter stink bombs, and the whalers targeted the environmentalists with a sonic crowd control device.
"I am furious," said the whaling fleet's leader Shigetoshi Nishiwaki.
He charged that the activists "say they want to protect the ocean, but they don't care about leaking oil or leaving pieces of a broken ship behind", a reference to the group's sunken powerboat the Ady Gil.
Commercial whaling has been banned worldwide since 1986 but Japan justifies its annual hunts as lethal "scientific research", while not hiding the fact that the meat is later sold in shops and restaurants.
Tensions have risen between whaling nations, also including Iceland and Norway, and anti-whaling nations such as Australia, which has threatened to take Japan to the International Court of Justice over the issue.
The International Whaling Commission, which meets in June in Morocco, is considering a plan to allow whaling nations to hunt the ocean giants openly if they agree to reduce their catch "significantly" over 10 years.
However, so far Japan, Australia and other key nations have rejected the plan, while New Zealand has voiced support for the compromise.
In Japan, meanwhile, two cases involving anti-whaling activists are now moving though the criminal justice system.
Sea Shepherd's Peter Bethune was indicted on April 2 for trespass, injuring a person, carrying a weapon, vandalism and obstructing commercial activities -- charges that could see him jailed for up to 15 years.
Bethune, 45, was the captain of the Sea Shepherd's Ady Gil, a futuristic powerboat that sank after it was sliced in two in a collision with the whaling fleet's security ship Shonan Maru II in early January.
On February 15, Bethune scaled the the Shonan Maru II from a jet ski before dawn with the stated intent of making a citizen's arrest of its captain Hiroyuki Komiya for the attempted murder of his six crew.
Bethune had also planned to present the captain with a bill for the Ady Gil, a carbon-and-Kevlar trimaran which broke the round-the-world record for a powerboat in 2008 under its former name Earthrace.
Instead he was detained, taken to Japan and formally arrested.
Prosecutors also allege he earlier caused a chemical burn on a whaler's face by hurling a bottle of rancid butter, or butyric acid, which smashed on the Shonan Maru II.
In another case involving anti-whaling activists, two Japanese members of Greenpeace face theft and trespass charges which stem from their investigation of alleged embezzlement in the state-subsidised industry.
The "Tokyo Two", as the environmental group calls its activists Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, face up to 10 years in prison if convicted in the trial, with a verdict expected some time in June.
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Whaling compromise under attack
Washington (AFP) April 8, 2010
A fragile plan to resolve the global feud on whaling is coming under attack from both sides, with Australia seeking more concessions from whalers and Japan vowing never to end its hunt completely. Key nations in the whaling debate submitted comments to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) as it fleshes out a compromise to be submitted before the body's annual meeting in June in Morocco ... read more
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