Australia warns Japan to stop Antarctic whaling

SYDENY: Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd bluntly told Japan today to commit to stop whaling or face international court action this year, just a day before a visit by Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada.

Rudd said Australia had collected video and photographic evidence about Japan’s annual Antarctic hunting expeditions, threatening to take its major trading ally to court before the next whaling season. He told the Channel 7 TV station that Australia would “work with the Japanese to reduce, through negotiation, their current catch to zero”.

“If that fails — and I’m saying this very bluntly and very clearly on your programme today — if that fails, then we will initiate that court action

before the commencement of the whaling season in November 2010.” Australia has given Japan the ultimatum before but the tough statement is likely to create waves just a day before Okada’s visit — the first by an official of Japan’s five-month-old government.

Australia and New Zealand have consistently opposed Japan’s killing

of hundreds of whales each year via a loophole

in an international

moratorium that allows “lethal research”.

In Tokyo, hours before he was due to leave for Australia, Okada told reporters: “Japan’s research whaling is a legal practice carried out in public waters under the international convention.” He said he would explain Tokyo’s position in his talks with Rudd. Japan’s centre-left government has maintained its support for whaling, which has a long tradition in the island-nation, since coming to power in September. Okada will meet Rudd and Defence Minister John Faulkner Saturday before holding talks with Foreign Minister Stephen Smith on Sunday. Rudd said he gave the warning despite Australia’s close economic ties with Japan, its top export market with sales worth 55 billion Australian dollars (49 billion US) in the year to last June.

The premier, who faces an election this year, said his warning was “a direct honouring of the commitment I gave to the Australian people.” Rudd said Australia had been discussing the issue with Japan for two years.

“Specifically, what we’re putting to the Japanese is to take where they are now, which is the slaughter of some hundreds of whales each year, and reduce that to zero.

“If we don’t get that as a diplomatic agreement, let me tell you, we’ll be going to the International Court of Justice.” Japan’s whaling fleet has been involved in fierce clashes with animal rights campaigners in recent weeks, including one encounter that left

the activists’ high-speed powerboat sliced in two.

This week the powerboat’s captain jetskied up to a Japanese ship and boarded it under cover of darkness, intending to make a citizen’s arrest of its skipper and hand over a three million US dollar damage bill.

The activist, Peter Bethune, remains in custody on board. Okada

said Bethune, in a phone talk with New Zealand’s consul to Japan, had

expressed the wish to be taken to Japan.

A Japanese fisheries agency official said: “We plan to hand him over to the coastguard, either offshore or at a Japanese harbour, for legal procedures.” It may take some three weeks for a vessel to take him to Japan, he said.

Fisheries Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu said

that “we would like to bring back the ship and the person and handle the case dispassionately, based on the law”.