Japanese to Release Anti-Whaling Trio Back to Australia

CANBERRA, Australia, January 9, 2012 (ENS) – Three Australian anti-whaling activists who boarded a Japanese whaling ship early Saturday morning will be released by the Japanese without charges, according to Australia’s attorney general.

Attorney General Nicola Roxon and Japanese government sources say criminal charges will not be laid against Forest Rescue activists Geoffrey Tuxworth, Simon Peterffy and Glen Pendlebury because they did not cause injury to crew members or to the whaling vessel Shonan Maru #2, which is part of the Japanese whaling fleet heading to the Southern Ocean.

From left: Geoffrey Tuxworth, Simon Peterffy, and Glen Pendlebury (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)

The three activists boarded the Shonan Maru #2 to “assist Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in their campaign to end illegal whale poaching in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary,” they said in a statement released Saturday.

The Shonan Maru #2 had been tailing the Sea Shepherd flagship Steve Irwin for 1,200 miles as it escorted another Sea Shepherd vessel into port at Fremantle, Australia for repairs after it was damaged in heavy seas.

The Japanese ship is tasked with keeping the Steve Irwin from interfering with the Japanese whale factory ship, the Nisshin Maru, as it conducts what the Japanese call “research whaling.”

The whale hunts are permitted by the International Whaling Commission despite the 1986 ban on commercial whaling, although a majority of IWC member governments are opposed. Critics say the Japanese are in fact conducting commercial whaling, not research, because the whale meat is sold for food in Japan.

Sea Shepherd founder and president Captain Paul Watson is commanding the Steve Irwin. “Geoffrey Tuxworth, Simon Peterffy and Glen Pendlebury came to me in Fremantle with a request for support to board the Japanese vessel. ‘We can help you get that poacher off your tail,’ they told me,” Watson said.

The men planned that the three would leave Australia by boat to be met by two Sea Shepherd inflatables some 16 miles off the coast near Bunbury, Western Australia, within the Australian contiguous zone.

The inflatables approached the Shonan Maru #2 under cover of darkness and the three negotiated their way past razor wire and spikes and over the rails to board the Japanese whaling vessel.

They boarded with a message, “Return us to shore in Australia and then remove yourself from our waters.”

Japan claims the Shonan Maru #2 was outside Australia’s contiguous zone when the men came aboard, but Watson and the three forest activists have proof from the GPS aboard the Steve Irwin that they were in Australian territorial waters at the time of boarding.

The GPS aboard the Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)

This has been a crucial point in negotiations between Australia and Japan over the fate of the three men, because within this zone, Australia is in control of customs, fiscal and immigration laws and regulations. Australia decides who can enter and leave its territorial waters, and Japan has no authority to remove Australian citizens from this zone without permission of the Australian government.

“The actual position of the boarding was 16.2 miles off the beach,” Watson said. “How do we know that? We know that because of a device called GPS and that shows their position at 32° 57″ 48″ South and 115° 20′ 24″ East.”

“It’s not just our GPS units on the Steve Irwin and our small boats but the time and position should be on the GPS unit of the Shonan Maru #2. That unit is all the evidence the three Australian men need to prove where they were and when they were at that position to board the Japanese vessel,” Watson said.

The three activists issued a statement from onboard the Japanese vessel, saying, “We have come from the forests of Australia to defend the whales being slaughtered in Australian territorial waters.”

“We have taken this action of boarding the Shonan Maru #2 to protest the fact that this vessel is part of a whaling fleet that is operating in contempt of the Australian Court and is in Australian waters in defiance of the Australian Federal court ruling and the will of the Australian people,” they said. “We as Forest Rescue are insulted and disappointed in our government for allowing the transit of whale poaching vessels in Australian waters.”

Shonan Maru #2 (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)

“We are onboard this ship because our government has failed to uphold its pre-election promise to end whaling in the Southern Ocean,” said Peterffy.

Watson has what he considers good reason to support the three activists in their attempt to send a strong message to the Japanese government from the Shonan Maru #2.

This is the same ship that in 2010 struck the Sea Shepherd anti-whaling vessel Ady Gil, cutting it in half. It is the same ship that took Ady Gil Captain Pete Bethune from New Zealand prisoner when he boarded it after the destruction of his boat. Bethune was held for five months in a Japanese jail before he was convicted of several offenses and deported.

It is the same ship whose captain and crew refused to cooperate with the Australian and New Zealand investigation into the destruction of the Ady Gil, Watson said.

He says that on Saturday, the Shonan Maru #2 was, “…lurking outside of Fremantle in defiance of a ruling by the Australian Federal court in 2008 that barred Japanese whaling ships from Australian waters.”

Initially Attorney General Roxon said she believed the boarding occurred in international waters. She says she now is working with the Japanese to return the three men to Australian custody.

However, at the moment, the three are still onboard the Shonan Maru #2, which has just left the Australian Economic Exclusion Zone and is international waters.

The Shonan Maru #2 is 16 miles astern of the Steve Irwin and both ships are heading south towards the coast of Antarctica, 1,200 miles away.

“It appears that the Japanese have clearly abducted three Australian citizens from the territorial waters of Australia inside the 24 nautical mile contiguous zone,” said Watson. “These men were removed from Australian waters against their will without Australian Customs and Immigration clearance and they do not have passports.”

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