Prominent anti-whaling activist Pete Bethune believes the abrupt halt to Japan’s annual Antarctic hunt this week may signal an end to its whaling operations in southern waters.
Japan cited high-seas harassment by the US-based environmentalist group Sea Shepherd when it called its whaling fleet home early after killing 172 whales this season, about a fifth of its target.
Bethune, who spent five months detained by Japanese authorities last year, told AFP he doubted the Japanese would return.
"I believe this may be the last year in Antarctica," said the 45-year-old New Zealander, the captain of the Sea Shepherd speedboat Ady Gil which sank in icy waters following a collision with a Japanese whaler last year.
Bethune said Japan is a signatory to international maritime regulations governing vessels operating in Antarctica and will be bound by strict, new regulations on fuel types and hull construction, which take effect in August.
"I believe the Japanese may use these as a face-saving excuse to withdraw from Antarctica," he told AFP.
ANTI-WHALING campaigners begin their Antarctic season today with a dilemma – the whalers are said to be still in Japan.
Sea Shepherd has overhauled its two existing ships and bought its first Australian-flagged vessel, the $1 million Gojira, to launch this summer’s campaign from Hobart.
The 90 activists will leave tonight to train off Tasmania before heading south, leader Paul Watson said.
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Sea Shepherd’s Gojira. Photo: Eye in the Sky
However, Sea Shepherd members in Japan this week photographed the factory whaling ship Nisshin Maru docked at its home port of Innoshima and Greenpeace said there was no sign of it leaving.
The fleet usually departs by mid-November, but even if the main ship of the fleet left later this week it would probably not begin processing whales until January, Captain Watson said.
The Institute of Cetacean Research still plans to take up to 935 minkes and 50 fin whales, institute spokesman Glenn Inwood said.
Gojira (Japanese for ”Godzilla”) presents a potentially ticklish diplomatic problem for the Gillard government as the first Sea Shepherd vessel to be Australian flagged.
Tokyo persuaded other countries to strip Sea Shepherd of ship registrations because of its actions against the whalers. The Netherlands held out and still flags the Steve Irwin and Bob Barker.
Formerly the round-the-world-record-holding Ocean Adventurer, Gojira is twice the size of the sunken Ady Gil and faster than any of the whaling ships. It is expected to scout for the fleet ahead of the other two ships.
Anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd deliberately sank its own high-tech protest boat to gain sympathy after a January collision with a Japanese whaling ship, the former skipper of the boat said Thursday in a public spat with the conservation group’s founder.New Zealand anti-whaling activist Peter Bethune said the protest boat Ady Gil was salvageable after the collision, but he was ordered by Sea Shepherd head Paul Watson to scuttle it."Paul Watson was my admiral," he said on New Zealand radio. "He gave me an order and I carried it out."Sea Shepherd denied Watson issued such an order, and said it had been unable to tow the boat and stop it from sinking.
An antiwhaling activist from New Zealand who allegedly obstructed the activities of the Japanese whaling fleet in the Antarctic Ocean pleaded guilty to most of the charges against him when his trial began Thursday at the Tokyo District Court. The trial of Peter Bethune, 45, former captain of the antiwhaling vessel Ady Gil of the U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has run a campaign to disrupt Japan’s “research whaling” activities, is being closely watched, as it is the first time a member of the group has appeared in a Japanese court.
Antiwhaling group the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society confirmed Friday that their stealth powerboat, the Ady Gil, sank in waters off Antarctica after it was severely damaged in a skirmish with Japanese whalers. Locky Maclean, first mate on board the group’s flagship vessel, the Steve Irwin, told Kyodo News the Ady Gil was being towed by their other boat, the Bob Barker, when it sank around 4:20 a.m. Melbourne time. (AP)
A space-age powerboat which holds the round-the-world record sped off from Australia on Tuesday on a mission to harass Japanese whaling ships in Antarctic seas.
The futuristic tri-hulled “Ady Gil” left the Tasmanian state capital Hobart, a port official said.
The kevlar-and-carbon craft will join up with about 40 militant anti-whalers aboard the “Steve Irwin”, which left Western Australia on Monday, in seas south of Australia.
The Ady Gil, a wave-piercing boat formerly known as “Earthrace”, jetted round the world in just under 61 days last year, beating the previous record by two weeks.
The craft has been bankrolled by the Hollywood businessman of the same name to help the anti-whalers, who claim to have saved hundreds of animals by confronting the Japanese ships in recent years.
In an increasingly bitter campaign, activists have boarded a whaling ship and hurled stink bombs and rancid butter at the fishermen, while accusing the Japanese of warding them off by using ear-piercing sonic weapons.
Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands on Monday urged restraint on both sides.
The Steve Irwin, with a crew of 41, expects to reach the Japanese ships in eight to 10 days and aims to stay in Antarctic waters for around three months.
During their five-month hunt last season, the Japanese fleet caught 679 minke whales and one fin whale — below the planned haul of between 765 and 935 whales, Japan’s fisheries agency said.