- Title: AUSTRALIA / JAPAN: Japanese and Australians react to Sea Shepherd collision
- Date: 8th January 2010
- Summary: SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA (JANUARY 7, 2010) (REUTERS) NEWSPAPER HEADLINE READING: "WHALING WAR SET TO WORSEN"
- Embargoed: 23rd January 2010 12:00
- Topics: International Relations
- Reuters ID: LVAE1P2VLBZDZH8NB81MHXB6XREE
- Story Text: Australia's government came under pressure on Thursday (January 7) to send a patrol vessel to the Southern Ocean after a high seas collision between an anti-whaling protest boat and a Japanese whaling ship that injured one activist.
Both sides have called for restraint after the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's futuristic powerboat Ady Gil had its bow sliced off by the Japanese security ship Shonan Maru No. 2 and was left foundering near Antarctica.
But the Japanese government also protested the incident, adding that if it continued it would take legal steps to brand the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as international pirates, similar to those attacking ships in the waters off Somalia.
On the streets of Sydney, people's sympathies lay firmly with the anti-whaling activists.
"On the video I saw this morning, it was moving along very slowly but it looked to me like the whaling vessel turned straight onto it. That's what I could ascertain from the videos, I think it was deliberate," said Sydney resident, Robert Casey.
"I was extremely concerned, I thought he is really inspiring and courageous in terms of what he is doing, there is an overwhelming public support to stop whaling. The volunteers on that ship are doing that work on behalf of the Australian community and I'd expect the Australian government to get completely behind them," added Stephanie Pillora.
Sydney resident Ben Britton said the situation was getting out of control.
"Well I think it's sort of boiling down to this point at the moment where that sort something big's going to have to happen, like I said, I read in the paper today if the Japanese are going to ram into a boat just to make scientific operations, it gets pretty out of hand," Ben Britton also told Reuters.
Australian opposition and green lawmakers said the government should immediately send a customs patrol ship to the area to ease tensions.
Sea Shepherd founder and captain, Paul Watson, agreed.
"Well, they should send a patrol boat down here to restore order and also to protect these whales that the Japanese are illegally targeting," Paul Watson told Australian broadcaster ABC by phone from the Southern Ocean.
"This is the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary in the Australian Antarctic territorial waters so what are these Japanese poachers doing down here and why is the Australian government not here restoring order and kicking these poachers out of these waters," he added.
Watson called for more action.
"Diplomacy has failed for twenty-three years, they've been killing whales while everybody has been doing this so called diplomatic approach. Diplomacy is just a way for Japan to continue business as usual, Peter Garrett says we have to be restrained, well he's restrained to the point of doing absolutely nothing at all for the last three years. Criminal acts are taking place down here, not only are they poaching whales but they are assaulting us, damaging our property, they are threatening our lives, we think something should be done about it," he said.
Australian environmentalists accuse centre-left Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of going soft on threats of an International Court of Justice whaling challenge to avoid damaging Australia's $58 billion two-way trade relationship with Japan and also called for a patrol ship.
"We want a ship dispatched this week and the reason why we want that is because there are major maritime incidents," opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt told local Australian media.
Confrontations between whalers and opponents have become an annual feature of the hunt in Antarctic waters claimed by Australia but not recognised as Australian by Japan.
Australia sent a customs icebreaker to Antarctic waters in early 2008 to monitor the Japanese whaling fleet and gather photographic and video evidence for a legal case.
Both countries have in the past agreed to quarantine their differences over whaling from wider diplomatic relations to avoid damaging close security ties and long-running free trade talks.
Scholars in Australia fear this confrontation may be the lynch pin though.
"This may well be a catalyst which significantly turns the international community against the legitimacy of Japan's actions in the Southern Ocean if they're prepared to engage in these types of robust action," Don Rothwell of Australian National University told ABC.
On the streets of Japan the situation was different.
When asked about the collision, many Tokyo residents said they had vaguely seen it. Some were puzzled as to why it had become an issue now.
"As whales are something that many have eaten normally during childhood, there's probably a lot of Japanese including myself that can't understand why this has become a problem only recently," 50-year-old Maki Wayama told Reuters.
Those who had heard of the incident said that while they were not necessary for the whaling programme, they disagreed with the activist's tactics.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with protesting. But overdoing it can get people hurt, so they should really think about their methods. It becomes a problem for Japan and for those overseas and it feels like the methods have drifted apart from the goal," said Junichi Yasuyama, a 51-year-old company employee in central Tokyo.
Some blame the government for not being more open about their whaling programme.
"I have a feeling that the Japanese government's lack of openness in what they wish to do may be one cause for the criticism that's been received," said 50-year-old Noriko Waki.
All Japanese media said the Sea Shepherd had no-one else to blame for in the collision but itself for putting its vessel in the way of danger.
Japan's Fisheries Agency said the collision took place when Ady Gil suddenly slowed down as it crossed in front of Shonan Maru, which had warned the boat of impending danger.
"The Japanese considers this to be an extremely regrettable event. As I believe the boat that was hit is registered in New Zealand, we are rigorously protesting this to the New Zealand government. We are strongly demanding that this doesn't happen again," said Japanese government spokesman Hirofumi Hirano.
The Agricultural minister also suggested the Japanese government should take legal action if the activists continue to harass the Japanese whaling fleet and brand them international pirates.
All six crew were rescued from the Ady Gil, but the collision left one activist with two broken ribs and the A$1.5 million ($1.37 million) carbon-fibre trimaran foundered. Sea Shepherd expected the powerboat to be unsalvageable.
New Zealand launched an investigation into the incident given the Ady Gil was New Zealand-registered.
Commercial whaling was banned under a 1986 moratorium, but Japan continues to cull whales, saying it is for research purposes, deflecting criticism from anti-whaling nations.
Japan says whaling is a cultural tradition and while most Japanese do not eat whale meat regularly, many are indifferent to accusations that the hunting is cruel.
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