CANBERRA, Australia, December 26, 2013 (ENS) – The Governments of Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States have issued a joint statement condemning any actions at sea that may cause injury, loss of human life or damage to property or the marine environment during the 2013/14 Southern Ocean whaling season.

“The Southern Ocean can be a treacherous, remote and unforgiving environment. Its isolation and extreme conditions mean that search and rescue capability is extremely limited. Dangerous behaviour jeopardises not only the safety of whaling and protest vessels and their crews but also anyone who comes to their assistance,” the four governments said.

Confrontation between Japanese whaling vessel, left, and Sea Shepherd whale defense vessel in the Southern Ocean (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)

Confrontation between Japanese whaling vessel, left, and Sea Shepherd whale defense vessel in the Southern Ocean (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)

“Incidents during the last whaling season clearly demonstrated the dangers involved. We reiterate our call to the masters of all vessels involved to uphold their responsibility to ensure safety at sea, including ensuring that international collision avoidance regulations are strictly observed in order to avoid the risk of loss of life or injury and damage to property or the marine environment,” they said. “We draw the attention of the masters of all vessels involved to the International Maritime Organization’s 17 May 2010 resolution on assuring safety during demonstrations, protests or confrontations on the high seas, and the International Whaling Commission’s 2011 Resolution on Safety at Sea.”

“We respect the right to freedom of expression, including through peaceful protests on the high seas, when protests are conducted lawfully and without violence. However, we unreservedly condemn dangerous, reckless or unlawful behaviour by all participants on either side, whether in the Southern Ocean or elsewhere. We will deal with unlawful activity in accordance with relevant international and domestic laws,” the four governments said.

“Our governments remain resolutely opposed to commercial whaling, including so-called ‘scientific’ whaling, in particular in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary established by the International Whaling Commission. Lethal research techniques are not required for modern whale conservation and management. We will continue to engage on this matter,” they said.

Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States are committed to improving the conservation status of whales worldwide, maintaining the International Whaling Commission’s global moratorium on commercial whaling, and implementing meaningful reform of the International Whaling Commission.

However, Sea Shepherd, the international nonprofit conservation organization that for the past nine years has intervened to save whales from the Japanese harpoons, claims that Australia’s new Liberal government led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott has abandoned its pre-election promise to send a customs vessel to monitor Japan’s whaling in the Southern Ocean this summer.

Sea Shepherd Australia will be present when the whaling fleet arrives for the summer months and says it will be the only party able to intervene against their “illegal” operations. The legality of Japanese whaling is currenlty being decided by the International Court of Justice.

Last May, Greg Hunt, who is now Australia’s Environment Minister, committed a future Abbott government to sending at least one Customs vessel south this summer if the Japanese whalers returned and breached the 2008 Australian Federal Court injunction against the whaling.

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Adult minke whale and calf are hauled aboard a Japanese whaling vessel, 2011 (Photo courtesy Australian Customs)

In recent weeks Minister Hunt has been indicating that the promise would be kept. But on December 22, he reneged on that promise.

Instead of the Customs vessel Ocean Protector, which is purpose-built for the Southern Ocean, being sent to the Antarctic, Hunt has announced the Abbott government will have some overflights in January and/or February.

“This is a clear breach of promise to the Australian people,” Sea Shepherd Australia’s Director, Jeff Hansen, said in Perth. Instead of an Australian vessel being present when the whaling fleet arrives and for the summer months and able to intervene, an Australian plane will be overhead for a few hours with no ability to intervene, he pointed out.

“The Minister, if he intended to keep his word, has been overruled,” said Hansen. “It is Australia’s whales that will suffer. We have had huge public support for Operation Relentless, which sees our three ships currently heading south from Australia to obstruct this bloody and illegal killing of our whales.”

“Once again, Australia’s government is leaving its responsibility to uphold the law to Sea Shepherd Australia. Our message to the Abbott Government is that sending planes is a waste of taxpayers’ money,” said Hansen. “Save your money. We will once again do the job you’re unwilling to do. This will simply increase our resolve to save the whales.”

Sea Shepherd Australia’s chair, former Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown, called the government’s failure to keep its election promise as “ugly and irresponsible.”

“Prime Minister Abbott and Greg Hunt have harpooned the Christmas hope that they would keep their word,” said Brown. “They are effectively turning a blind eye to the Japanese slaughter because they have been advised that otherwise they would have to intervene and enforce the Federal Court injunction against the slaughter.”

Captain Peter Hammarstedt, who commands one of the three Sea Shepherd vessels, The Bob Barker, said, “What it doesn’t send is a clear message to the whale poachers that the Australian government expects the whalers to abide by the injunction.”

The Japanese whaling fleet left its home port earlier this month and is heading for the Southern Ocean to try to fulfill its self-imposed quota of 950 minke whales. In spite of a global moratorium on whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission in 1986, Japan has killed hundreds of whales each year under a loophole in the moratorium that permits “research” or “scientific” whaling.

Based in Australia, the Humane Society International expressed its “severe disappointment that Japanese whalers are making their way south to the waters of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary once again, with the intent to kill almost one thousand whales. HSI expects the whaling fleet to reach the Southern Ocean and start their annual killing spree sometime between Christmas and the New Year.”

“This Christmas, HSI’s thoughts will be with the hundreds of whales that are in the firing line of the Japanese Government,” said Alexia Wellbelove. “The continuing slaughter of almost one thousand whales in Antarctica every year is totally unjustified and immensely cruel.”

“Earlier this year, 103 Antarctic minke whales were killed in this Japanese program. This included 53 females, of which 47% were pregnant, and 51 percent were immature animals,” she said. “This is further evidence, if needed, of the gruesome nature of the whaling operations.”

“In June, the International Court of Justice met to consider this very issue, and the panel of international judges have begun their deliberations. For Japan to continue targeting whales as part of a so-called ‘scientific whaling’ program whilst these deliberations are still underway is totally unacceptable,” said Wellbelove.

“This continued hunting is not only an act of bad faith in the face of Australia’s ongoing legal case in the International Court of Justice against Japan’s ‘scientific whaling’ program, but also a breach of the Humane Society International-obtained Federal Court Order, the injunction secured in January 2008 against Japanese whale hunts in Australia’s Antarctic territorial waters,” she said.

The injunction was obtained against Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd., the Japanese company responsible for whaling in the Southern Ocean.

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