Japan confirms whaling fleet to sail

Whaling vessel leaving port (file image) Japan's whalers sail south each year despite a dwindling appetite for whale meat

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Japan has confirmed it will go ahead with its annual whale hunt and will increase security to protect its fleet.

Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano said extra ships would escort the fleet to the Antarctic to guard against harassment from anti-whaling activists.

Last year Japan cut short its whaling season because of the harassment.

Australia - which is challenging Japan's whaling in the international court - has condemned the announcement.

"There is widespread concern in the international community at Japan's whaling programme and widespread calls for it to cease," Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said.

Australia remained ""resolute in its opposition to all commercial whaling, including Japan's so-called scientific whaling".

'Strengthening measures'

There has been a ban on commercial whaling for 25 years, but Japan catches about 1,000 whales each year in what it says is a scientific research programme.

Critics say it is commercial whaling in another guise.

The Legalities of Whaling

  • Objection - A country formally objects to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium, declaring itself exempt. Example: Norway
  • Scientific - A nation issues unilateral "scientific permits"; any IWC member can do this. Example: Japan
  • Indigenous (aka Aboriginal subsistence) - IWC grants permits to indigenous groups for subsistence food. Example: Alaskan Inupiat

Its fleet sails south to the Antarctic in the autumn each year, returning the following spring.

But last year it returned early, citing safety concerns, after confrontations with an anti-whaling activist group that had followed the fleet south.

The group, Sea Shepherd, has pledged to follow the fleet again this year and obstruct its hunt.

In the past there have been collisions between its vessels and the whaling fleet, and its activists have also boarded Japanese vessels.

There had been speculation that the activists' campaign, budget problems in the wake of the 11 March earthquake and tsunami, and new rules at sea might persuade Tokyo to stop whaling.

But Mr Kano, the fisheries minister, said that this was not the case.

"Japan will conduct the research whaling while strengthening measures against acts of sabotage, including dispatching Fisheries Agency escort ships," he said.

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