Whale protest escalates

A radical green group is set to escalate violent protests against whaling ships in Antarctic waters as Japan considers calling in a police air escort.

The Japanese proposal, which could involve Japanese Maritime Police Agency planes refuelling in Australia to shadow Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean, follows collisions between protest ships and Japanese vessels at the weekend.

Greenpeace and Japan blame each other for two of the collisions and the environmental group said it may hand the Japanese Government a repair bill for the damage to its ship.

But a second group, the more militant Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, said yesterday it was time to escalate the conflict to stop the “criminals involved in a criminal operation”.

Japan’s Fisheries Agency yesterday edged away from the prospect of immediate law enforcement action, but warned it remained an option.

“At this moment, no (there is no need) but if the actions of Greenpeace or Sea Shepherd are escalated, we need to act,” Far Seas Fisheries division deputy chief Hideki Moronuki said in Tokyo yesterday.

Mr Moronuki was vague about what Japan’s police could do to support the whaling fleet.

“From my personal opinion, they may dispatch aircraft and they may ask the Australian Government to take some action,” he said.

Australian Defence Minister Robert Hill expressed concern about the situation but said Japan had not asked for help and the military would not be involved.

“It’s a civilian issue. We don’t see an Australian military role,” he said.

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown said any move to use Australia as a base for the Japanese patrols would be met with outrage.

Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson, who skippers the group’s flagship Farley Mowat in the Southern Ocean, yesterday threatened to ram the Japanese ships.

“We intend to disable any pirate whaling vessel we find,” he said. “This nonsense must be ended.”

Mr Watson’s ship sideswiped one Japanese ship on Sunday and said he would do it again.

His ship carries what he calls a “can opener” – a reinforced spike jutting out from one side which can tear huge gashes in any vessel it comes into contact with.

Mr Watson ridiculed Japan’s proposal for police patrols.

“What do they intend to do? Take pictures or strafe us, parachute onto our decks and arrest us?” Mr Watson said.

The Greenpeace ships Esperanza and Arctic Sunrise, along with the Farley Mowat, are tailing the whalers about 4000km southwest of Perth, attempting to disrupt Japan’s scientific whaling program.

Greenpeace said the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru deliberately hit the Arctic Sunrise twice on Sunday, leaving a 1.5m dent in its bow and bending its forward mast.

Japan maintained Greenpeace was responsible for the collision.

Greenpeace expedition leader Shane Rattenbury said they may pursue a damages claim against Japan over the damage to the Esperanza.

Japan plans to catch 935 minke whales and 10 fin whales this summer for what it insists is scientific research.

Source: Daily Telegraph (Australia)