Australia takes Japan to court over whaling
Australia tells International Court of Justice that Japan’s scientific research is a thinly veiled commercial hunt
An international row over whaling is set to break out after Japan said it would "firmly" defend itself from a legal challenge to its cull of hundreds of whales in the Southern Ocean every year.
Australia finally made good on its longstanding threat to take Japan to the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Tuesday - accusing it of hunting whales for commercial purposes in an area that it considers to be a whale sanctuary.
Since 1986 the Japanese fleet has operated under an exception to a moratorium on hunting imposed by the International Whaling Commission, which allows whales to be killed for scientific research. But many believe that the Japanese operation is a thinly veiled commercial hunt - and much of the whale meat ends up being eaten by the public at special restaurants.
It is one of only three countries in the world, along with Norway and Iceland that still hunts whales.
The action comes just weeks before the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission, that was to discuss a plan to allow those three nations to kill whales openly, provided they reduced their catch "significantly" each year.
Under the proposals the Japanese fleet would only be allowed to kill 410 whales during the next season, and by 2016 the figure would be around 200. In the 2009-10 season they caught around 500 whales, but would have killed more if it hadn't been for protestors harrassing the whaling fleet
The Australian action, which could be backed by New Zealand, would derail those discussions and could have diplomatic repercussions.
According to the court documents, Japan's annual cull has "a lack of any demonstrated relevance for the conservation and management of whale stocks," and Australia's environment minister has promised to "bring a permanent end to whaling in the Southern Ocean".
However Japan says it "cannot accept" Australia's claims and will "firmly respond" to the legal action. Government spokesman Hirofumi Hirano said Australia's action was "extremely regrettable". Japan claims that whaling is a part of its history and culture and that it has a right to continue the practise.
The move comes after violent clashes between the Japanese whaling fleet and activists from the environmental group Sea Shepherd cut short the 2009-10 hunt. The Japanese whalers returned home with just 500 of the 900 whales they had hoped to catch.
However, a Sea Shepherd activist, New Zealander Peter Bethune, was arrested after boarding one of the Japanese ships and now faces up to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of trespassing and destruction of property. The Japanese are also trying to arrest Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson and have asked Interpol for help. ·
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