Australian Customs Ship Collects Three Anti-Whaling Protesters

CANBERRA, Australia, January 14, 2012 (ENS) – Three Australian anti-whaling protestors who had boarded the Japanese whaling vessel Shonan Maru No. 2 were transferred to the Australian Customs Vessel Ocean Protector Saturday and will be brought back to Australia, according to Attorney General Nicola Roxon.

The three Australian men from the environmental group Forest Rescue boarded the Japanese vessel in waters off the coast of Bunbury on Sunday, January 1.

In support of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s three-vessel anti-whaling fleet, they were carrying a message to the Japanese whalers to stop whaling and leave Australian waters.

On Tuesday, the Japanese government confirmed that it would transfer the men to Australian authorities and would not lay charges against Geoffrey Tuxworth, Simon Peterffy and Glen Pendlebury, all of Western Australia.

Australian Attorney General Nicola Roxon (Photo courtesy Office of the AG)

The transfer was conducted using the tenders from the ACV Ocean Protector to approach the Shonan Maru No. 2. “The transfer process took place with full cooperation from all parties,” said Roxon. “The men are reported to be in good health, but all will be assessed by medical staff onboard the ACV Ocean Protector.”

The ACV Ocean Protector is heading to Albany, Western Australia, estimating their arrival time sometime on January 15, depending on weather.

Roxon said she hopes the three men would “reflect on their actions.”

From the bridge of the Sea Shepherd flagship the Steve Irwin, now in pursuit of the Japanese whaling fleet across the Southern Ocean, Captain Paul Watson said, “I’m sure they will reflect upon the huge success this was for the movement to defend the whales of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.”

“This action focused international attention on Japan’s continued illegal whaling activities in the Southern Ocean,” said Watson. “It also illustrated the lack of action by the Australian government to uphold its pre-election campaign promises to get tough on whaling.”

Three Forest Rescue activists boarded the Shonan Maru No 2. From left: Geoffrey Tuxworth, Simon Peterffy, Glen Pendlebury (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)

“The action illustrated the contradiction of allowing a whaling vessel into Australian waters in violation of the 2008 Australian Federal Court ruling prohibiting Japanese whaling vessels from entering Australian territorial waters,” Watson said. “In addition, the action deeply embarrassed the Japanese security team by having three unarmed Australian citizens board the designated security vessel for the whaling fleet.”

Roxon said, “We support peaceful protest, but dangerous action on the high seas is quite different. We strongly encourage both sides of this dispute to respect the law and act calmly. Protestors must be aware that, in the future, such action may lead to charges in another country and possible conviction.

Watson responded, “Not one of my crewmembers has broken a law nor have we been charged with breaking a law over the last eight years.”

Addressing the Japanese arrest and trial of New Zealander Pete Bethune, captain of the Sea Shepherd vessel Ady Gil, which was cut in two by the Shonan Maru No 2 in 2010, Watson said, “Pete Bethune was acting independently when he boarded the Shonan Maru No. 2 in 2010, and he boarded against my advice not to do so.”

“We are not down in the Southern Ocean protesting whaling. Sea Shepherd is not a protest organization,” Watson declared.

Sea Seapherd founder Captain Paul Watson (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)

“We are intervening against an illegal whaling operation in accordance with the principles of the United Nations World Charter for Nature. The Japanese are targeting endangered and protected whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in violation of a global moratorium on commercial whaling. Sea Shepherd is simply opposing a criminal operation because the signatories to the treaties are not enforcing the regulations,” Watson said.

“This mission to collect the three Australians has also been of great expense to the Australian taxpayer,” Roxon complained.

Watson responded that these expenses “could have been avoided if the attorney general had first examined the evidence before taking the word of the Japanese that they were not inside the Australian contiguous zone. Sea Shepherd’s GPS was able to prove that the Shonan Maru No. 2 was actually boarded 16 miles off the beach,” he said, a location that is within Australia’s 24 mile contiguous zone.

“The Australian government allowed the Japanese vessel to remove the three men from Australian waters,” Watson said. “They refused Sea Shepherd’s offer to accept the men to be transferred from the Shonan Maru No. 2 to the Steve Irwin which would have cost nothing. This expense was unnecessary but the decision to do it the way it was done rests with the attorney general. There was an additional expense caused by the refusal of the Shonan Maru No. 2 to stop its pursuit of the Steve Irwin.”

The Japanese whaler Yushin Maru #3 with MacQuarie Island in the background, photographed from the bridge of the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker, January 11, 2012 (Photo by Carolina Castro courtesy Sea Shepherd)

Roxon said, “The Australian Government continues to condemn Japan’s decision to continue its so-called ‘scientific’ whaling in the Southern Ocean this summer and reiterates its request for whaling vessels to stay out of Australia’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone.”

Watson said, “It does not appear that they are listening. Japanese whalers behave like they can go anywhere whenever they choose. Two days after this incident, the Yushin Maru No. 3 pursued the Bob Barker four miles off the coast of MacQuarie Island.” MacQuarie Island is a World Heritage Site where a whale killing vessel has “no business,” he said.

“I call upon those who oppose whaling to support the Australian Government’s legal action in the International Court of Justice, rather than recklessly taking the law into their own hands,” Roxon said.

In May 2010 the Australian government decided to take the government of Japan to the International Court of Justice in an attempt to end Japan’s 22 years of so-called scientific research whaling.

Legal analyses by four international panels of independent legal experts have found that Japan’s scientific whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary violates international laws and treaties, including the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, the Antarctic Treaty System and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Watson said, “If Australia would seek an injunction, Sea Shepherd will withdraw. However, Sea Shepherd is not taking any laws into our own hands. We have not broken any laws. We are simply intervening against international environmental crimes in accordance with the United Nations World Charter for Nature.”

“We have been doing this for eight years without a single injury inflicted or sustained. We are not being reckless. We are being responsible and we are doing something no one else is doing – saving whales – 858 last season, 525 the season before and 483 the year before that.

Despite a worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission, the Japanese give themselves a quota of up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales from Antarctic waters each season and say these whales must die to support their scientific research.

A minke whale swims in the Southern Ocean (Photo © Institute of Cetacean Research)

At least 10,000 whales have died under the Japanese “research whaling” program since it started in 1987.

The Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research, which carries out the Japanese government’s whaling program, defends its whaling activities, saying, “Japan’s research whaling in the Antarctic is a perfectly legal activity carried out under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.”

“The Institute of Cetacean Research, ICR, strongly condemns the Sea Shepherd and its continued dangerous and violent actions against Japanese vessels and crews in the Antarctic, and calls on all related countries including the Netherlands which is the SI [Steve Irwin] flag state to take every measure available to restrain them and deal with their criminal actions in a strict and objective manner according to their international and domestic obligations.”

The ICR complains that on January 11 one of its whaling vessels, the Yushin Maru No. 2, was attacked by anti-whaling activists from the Steve Irwin.

The ICR describes a skirmish during which Sea Shepherd activists aboard two rubber boats sent from the Steve Irwin approached the Yushin Maru No. 2 and, “aiming to disable the Japanese vessel rudder and propeller, deployed two ropes just in front of the YS2 bow.” The activists threw more than 20 glass bottles containing butyric acid, a smelly but harmless substance, and paint glass bottles. “Seven of these projectile bottles reached the deck of the YS2,” the institute said.

The crew of the whaling vessel tried to deter the activists with its water cannon.

“There were no injuries to the Japanese crew,” the ICR said and could not confirm any damage to the vessel.

Under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, it is an offense for a whaling vessel to operate anywhere inside Australia’s 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone, not just within the country’s territorial waters.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.