Thailand – Australia – United Kingdom

Bosses lash out as whalers limp home

Ships from Japan’s whaling fleet returned to port yesterday after violent clashes with conservationists in the Antarctic Ocean damaged its ships and left the season’s catch well short of its target.

Some vessels had mangled guard rails and large scratches in their sides, which officials said was the result of heated run-ins with a boat operated by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an environmental group from the United States.

The fleet killed 679 minke whales and one fin whale during its five-month hunt, below its goals of up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales.

“This season’s catch was reduced as a result of the interference by protesters,” said Shigeki Takaya, a fisheries agency spokesman.

Three vessels from Japan’s fleet docked in Shimonoseki, a port town about 800km southwest of Tokyo, with the mother ship due in today. Two other ships returned to Japan last week.

Kazuo Yamamura, president of Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, which runs the whaling fleet, said he was upset by damage allegedly caused to his ships by Sea Shepherd.

“I’m enraged, and my blood is boiling with anger,” he said.

The company has blamed Sea Shepherd for skirmishes at sea, saying it was the protesters who escalated the attacks by ramming two Japanese vessels and pelting whalers with acid-filled glass bottles.

Japan’s whale hunt is allowed under international rules as a scientific programme, despite a 1986 ban on commercial whaling. Whale meat not used for study is sold for consumption in Japan, which critics say is the real reason for the hunt.

Whale is no longer a common food in the country, although meat from the hunt is sold in supermarkets and restaurants.

The programme is the target of strong criticism by Western environmentalist groups such as Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd, which has vowed to physically interrupt the hunts until they stop.

Japanese officials have described such protesters as “terrorists” and “pirates,” and applied political pressure to stop their activities.

Australia has said that the whales do not need to be killed to be studied, and has started its own non-lethal research programme.

This year, the Sea Shepherd’s boat chased the fleet more than 3200km through the Antarctic Ocean before withdrawing in February.

Captain Paul Watson said at the time he broke off the chase because the risk of a serious injury from because of the increasingly hostile exchanges between the two groups was too great.

But he vowed to return to the Antarctic next whaling season.

Japan temporarily suspended its whale hunt in January after a crewman was lost after he apparently fell overboard from one of its vessels. The accident was not related to the Sea Shepherd protests.


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