29th January 2011 Japanese Whaling Fleet on the Run
The future of Japan's Antarctic industry hangs in the balance, writes Andrew Darby.
IN THE shadows of intent, somewhere between harmless fireworks and deadly force, lies the whaling conflict in the Antarctic.
At one end of this spectrum are the stink bombs thrown against water jets. At the other is the near fatal collision involving the Ady Gil.
Among all this piratical colour and movement, decisive moments of a decades-long struggle can pass little noticed.
Such was the case last week when a bizarre fleet manoeuvre formed in the Southern Ocean.
Three black ships of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society took up positions around a red fuel tanker and escorted it out of the Antarctic. Skulking in their wakes were two of the three harpoon-equipped whale hunter ships in the Japanese fleet.
The hunter ships had been tagging the black ships for two weeks, instead of harpooning whales.
Sea Shepherd's Neptune's Navy had tracked them down on New Year's Eve, only hours after they reached their whaling grounds.
The factory ship Nisshin Maru, together with the third harpoon boat, gave the activists the slip. But the two hunters were ordered to keep tabs on Sea Shepherd, presumably to inform the Nisshin Maru so it could keep clear.
Now that the Sea Shepherd ships had locked on to the tanker Sun Laurel, the conservationists claimed to have found the fleet's Achilles heel. If Nisshin Maru could not refuel, Japan's whalers would have to cut their season short.
Neptune's Navy came one step closer to ruling the waves.
It was further evidence that, after spending 23 years killing about 10,000 Antarctic minkes in the name of science, Japan's whalers are increasingly embattled.
They have seen the collapse of International Whaling Commission talks that might have given them a legitimate Antarctic kill, and taken a series of hits at home.
They had to share official blame for the Ady Gil shipwreck and were forced to apologise for running a whale-meat black market. In the legal trade the Japanese consumer appetite for their product is at best lukewarm.
Falling meat sales are stretching the finances of Japan's whaling agency, the Institute of Cetacean Research. And in the same way that tax laws finally caught up with the US gangster Al Capone, marine regulations are encircling Nisshin Maru, the world's last factory whaling ship.
The hopes of long-time opponents, such as Patrick Ramage, from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, are rising. ''What I sense now is that the whaling industry is in its death throes,'' Ramage says.
The global politics of whaling shifted at a crucial International Whaling Commission meeting in Morocco in June, when the dispute between pro- and anti-whaling governments came to a head.
Of all the issues dividing the 88-member Whaling Commission, none is more sensitive than Japan's Antarctic whaling. A scheme to resolve this split emerged before the Morocco meeting, after three years of secretive wrangling between central commission countries, including Australia.
Its chairman, Cristian Maquieira, of Chile, offered a proposal to reduce Japan's quotas for five years from its present maximum of 935 minke whales to 400, and from 50 fin whales to 10; both these numbers were to halve again for the following five years.
To some anti-whaling governments, including the US, it was a potential face-saver for Japan to phase out Antarctic whaling. New Zealand's representative on the Whaling Commission, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, memorably said everyone would have to ''swallow the dead rat'' of compromise.
But the best Australia would offer Tokyo was a phase-out of whaling within five years. A US diplomatic cable revealed a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official complaining that greater compromise efforts ''bounced off'' the then environment minister, Peter Garrett.
Japan gave no indication it would be prepared to reduce numbers to an acceptable level, and the talks stalled.
Key negotiators have since left the Whaling Commission, including Palmer. (He now has what some might think an easier job - chairing a United Nations inquiry into the Gaza protest flotilla killings by Israeli soldiers last year.)
The main diplomatic game is shifting to Australia's International Court of Justice case against Japan. Advocates see strong opportunities to expose Japanese whaling before a new global audience in May, when Australia's full case, or ''memorial'', is outlined to the court.
''This case presents a real chance to expose Japan's whaling once and for all as a sham and an abuse of its rights at the IWC,'' says Mick McIntyre, from the group Whales Alive.
The WikiLeaks disclosure of US diplomatic cables revealed Australian cabinet division over the wisdom of this case, which will take years. But it undeniably demonstrates that the whaling issue is shifting from an incapable Whaling Commission and into the hands of other umpires.
The most thorough inquiry into the Ady Gil collision was conducted by Maritime New Zealand, acting as investigator for the wrecked ship's flag state. It recorded black marks against both sides.
It found the Japanese security ship Shonan Maru No. 2 had a responsibility to keep clear of the Ady Gil and had ample opportunity to do so. It also found the Ady Gil's skipper, Pete Bethune, failed to keep his vessel clear. His helmsman had limited visibility and did not see the Japanese boat until seconds before the impact.
This season Shonan Maru No. 2 was left out of the fleet. Bethune split acrimoniously from Sea Shepherd over its refusal to take him south again.
The Fisheries Agency of Japan also took an official hit over its officials' role in a fraudulent whale-meat trade exposed by Greenpeace. Recently the agency made a formal public apology for the loss of thousands of dollars' worth of meat, and censured five staff.
In Japan, where official corruption is consistently big news, damage to the whaling industry's image is significant, says Junichi Sato, of Greenpeace. ''Whaling was considered untouchable in the past,'' Sato said. ''Now this is just another corrupted operation.''
Sato was prosecuted with another man for shining a light on this trade by taking a box of whale meat and giving it to the authorities. They are appealing against their convictions.
He continues to watch the industry, despite the difficulty of making an impact on the government. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan is preoccupied with its own survival, and the Fisheries Agency still calls the shots. Asked whether Greenpeace could gain any engagement with the Democratic Party, Sato points to the fast-changing ministerial chairs and says: ''No. Not at all. It's horrible.''
However, he believes the Institute of Cetacean Research is in difficult financial straits. Two years ago, the Japanese fleet was seven ships strong. This year it has four. The whalers were also three weeks late reaching the Antarctic, and plan a much shorter season.
''I don't think they can afford to pay for a longer period,'' Sato said. ''They have a subsidy of about 800 million yen [$9.7 million] but they are missing revenue on whale-meat sales.''
Whale meat's popularity in Japan is hotly disputed. Its fans in a sprinkling of restaurants defend it; opponents believe it is increasingly seen as a throwback.
David Stevenson, a pro-whaling blogger who tracks the whale-meat trade from published Japanese data, found incoming stock more or less matched the outgoing for much of the past decade.
But consumption fell sharply in 2009. There are indications from Japanese environmentalists that consumption also fell last year. Stevenson argues this is a result of the global financial crisis. Others say more Japanese are rejecting it.
In any case, due to Sea Shepherd's obstruction, there is less whale meat reaching the docks and, as a result, less revenue to offset the institute's costs. Last year the activists cost the whalers 31 days of their season - almost a third - though they managed to catch 506 minkes and one fin whale. This year a much worse figure threatens.
On top of this short-term financial squeeze looms a greater strategic problem. The heavy fuel oil used by Nisshin Maru will be outlawed in the Antarctic by the International Maritime Organisation from August. The institute has given no indication of its intentions but Japan is one of the world's leading maritime nations and is regarded as highly compliant.
The 23-year-old Nisshin Maru may need a multimillion-dollar refit, or a government decision could be forced on whether to replace it. This is a nightmare scenario for whaling's opponents, who see a new ship as entrenching the industry for decades.
Without it, some believe whaling may quietly die, particularly if the fires of its supporters are not stoked by Sea Shepherd's direct action.
The Institute of Cetacean Research describes Sea Shepherd as ''terroristic''. But in technique its leader, Paul Watson, has more in common with Julius Caesar than al-Qaeda. Leading from the front, he besieges whaling. He believes the best way to end the hunt is to strangle its resources, and the rope appears to be tightening.
28/01/2011 Attempt to Charge Conservationists
The federal government, acting under heavy diplomatic pressure from Japan, explored taking legal action against the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd.
Tokyo angrily strengthened demands for Australia's co-operation against further ''sabotage'' of its whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean after the Ady Gil collision, declassified documents show.
In 2009 and last year the government considered grounds for legal action. It found it could not ban Sea Shepherd ships from Australian ports or detain them.
However, both the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Japanese embassy, using an international convention against terrorism at sea, required the Australian Federal Police to undertake a criminal investigation of Sea Shepherd's activities. This investigation is continuing.
Revelations of the Foreign Affairs liaison with Japan follow a disclosure by WikiLeaks that a Foreign Affairs official was confident the whalers would ''come away clean'' from the collision in which the security ship Shonan Maru No. 2 sliced the bow off Sea Shepherd's Ady Gil.
The only official investigation to attribute responsibility for the shipwreck, by Maritime New Zealand, recorded black marks against the skippers of the Ady Gil and the Shonan Maru No. 2.
Censored Foreign Affairs documents were released to the Greens leader, Bob Brown, on appeal in a freedom-of-information request, after he was denied access to papers relating to federal police searches of Sea Shepherd ships.
''This shows a double standard that puts Japan above Sea Shepherd,'' Senator Brown said. ''It's a disgraceful commentary that cuts across common legal prudence.''
The Foreign Affairs documents show a flurry of diplomatic activity after the collision last January. Japan demanded action against Sea Shepherd ships when they returned to Australia to refuel during their campaign and again at the end of the whaling season.
Talks reached a climax during a protest to the Foreign Affairs secretary, Dennis Richardson, in Canberra by the visiting Japanese state secretary for foreign affairs, Tetsuro Fukuyama.
A senior legal adviser to the Australian department, Penny Richards, said in a confidential ministerial submission that Australia was obliged to act under the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, because the Ady Gil's crew had returned to the country.
''We are not making a judgment about whether the Ady Gil was responsible for the collision with the Shonan Maru No. 2 but the fact of the collision makes both crews 'alleged offenders' for the purposes of the SUA convention,'' she said.
She said the Foreign Affairs and the Attorney-General's departments told the AFP it should mount a criminal inquiry, and Japan followed up separately.
26/01/2011 Amazing Disentanglement of North Atlantic Right Whale
Scientists from NOAA Fisheries Service approaching the young North Atlantic Right Whale, they disentangled off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Scientists from NOAA Fisheries Service and its state and nonprofit partners successfully used at-sea chemical sedation to help cut the remaining ropes from a young North Atlantic Right Whale off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida. The sedative given to the whale allowed the disentanglement team to safely approach the animal and remove 50 feet of rope which was wrapped through its mouth and around its flippers.
This is only the second time a free swimming whale has been successfully sedated to enable disentanglement efforts. The first time a whale was successfully sedated and disentangled was in March 2009 off the coast of Florida.
"Our recent progress with chemical sedation is important because it's less stressful for the animal, and minimizes the amount of time spent working on these animals while maximizing the effectiveness of disentanglement operations, " said Jamison Smith, Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Coordinator for NOAA's Fisheries Service. "This disentanglement was especially complex, but proved successful due to the detailed planning and collective expertise of the many response partners involved."
The young female whale, born during the 2008-2009 calving seand and estimated to be approximately 30 feet long, was originally observed entangled on Christmas Day by an aerial survey team. On 30 December, a disentanglement team of trained responders from Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were able to remove 150 feet of rope from the whale, but additional rope remained. NOAA and its partners continued to track the animal via a satellite tag to determine if the animal would shed the remianing gear on its own. Calm weather conditions were necessary before attempting further intervention on 15 January.
During this response, scientists used for the first time a special digital monitoring tag which recorded the whale's behaviour before, during and after sedation. Sedating large whales at sea is in its infancy and data collected from the digital archival tag will be used to inform future sedation attempts that may be necessary. After disentangling the whale, scientists administered a dose of antibiotics to treat entanglement wounds and drug to reverse the sedation. The whale will be tracked up to 30 days via a temporty satellite tag.
The disentanglement and veterinarian team consisted of scientists from NOAA Fisheries Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of Florida, EcoHealth Alliance and Coastwise Consulting. The Provincetown Centre of Coastal Studies and the New England Aquarium also provided offsite support.
Fishing gear removed from this whale included ropes and wire mesh material, similar to what is found in the trap or pot fisheries for fish, crab and lobster along the mid-Atlantic, northeast US and Canadian coasts. However, the specific fishery and its geographic origin are pending examination by experts at NOAA's Fisheries Service.
With only 300-400 in existence, North Atlantic Right Whales are among the most endangered whales in the world. They are protected under the US Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Vessel strikes and entanglement in fixed fishing gear are the two greatest threats to their recovery.
Thanks to NOAA Fisheries Service
08/01/2011 Diplomats Quick to Put Japan in the Clear over Sinking
Australian diplomats were quick to absolve Japanese whalers of blame for the crash that sank the anti-whaling vessel Ady Gil a year ago, telling the US embassy in Canberra the Japanese would "come away clean" from any investigation.
Leaked US embassy cables reveal that the Department of Foreign Affairs did not hesitate to blame anit-whaling protesters for the collision in the Southern Ocean on 6th January 2010 between the Ady Gil and the whaler Shonan Maru No 2.
An initial report by the US embassy on that day noted that while there were no reported casualties, the collision was "a major escalation of the confrontation over whaling in the Southern Ocean "that would" increase public and opposition pressure on the Australian government to more actively confront Japan."
Against the backdrop of the Rudd government's efforts to negotiate a settlement that would allow a limited continuation of Japanese whaling, the embassy further noted that "if Japan is at fault, the incident will further chill Australia's diplomatic engagement on whaling."
The cables, obtained by WikiLeaks and provided exclusively to the Herald, show New Zealand was at odds with Australia in its initial assessment of the incident.
New Zealand Foreign Ministry officials told the US embassy in Wellington that it was not clear which vessel was to blame for the crash that resulted in the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's Ady Gil being abandoned and scuttled.
The officials said the New Zealand government was "not making any judgment as to who was at fault for the collision, regardless of the public accusations and finger pointing in the press that both sides in the incident are currently engaged in."
As the Ady Gil was a New Zealand flagged vessel, the New Zealand government had undertaken a preliminary investigation but the Foreign Ministry's initial assessment was that "it is not clear which party is at fault."
But on the day after the crash, the Department of Foreign Affairs did not hesitate to attribute blame.
After discussions with Australian diplomats, the US embassy in Canberra reported to Washington: "The initial video evidence of the collision between a Japanese whaling ship and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessel Ady Gil strongly suggests that the Ady Gil stopped or slowed significantly in the path of the Japanese whaling vessel Shonan Maru at close range and that the Japanese vessel's actions could be consistent with trying to avoid a collision."
Paula Watt, the director of the marine environment section at Foreign Affairs, told the embassy that while maritime safety authorities would make a final finding, she was confident the Japanese would "come away clean". The embassy said such a result would be "hard to swallow" for the Australian public.
"Already frustrated with the inability of the Rudd government to stop or reduce whaling in the Southern Ocean, public outcry over the incident has been heavily one sided and stoked by the opposition," it said.
The embassy did not doubt that Australia would conduct a careful inquiry into the crash and any potential violations of international or Australian Law.
"Given the pressure they are already under on this issue in an election year, any determination of the facts by Australian authorities will be scrutinised by all sides. The truth about the collision is unlikely to emerge quickly, the inquiry would be hard pressed to avoid influence by foreign policy or domestic political calculus," the embassy's cable concluded. A subsequent investigation by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority was inconclusive and unable to assign blame.
The authority was unable to verify claims by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society that the Shonan Maru had steered deliberately into the Ady Gil and Japan declined to participate in the investigation, saying any information it had might be needed for an inquiry by its authorities.
New Zealand maritime authorities eventually found that both vessels were at fault. Maritime New Zealand found that the Shonan Maru should have kept clear of the Ady Gil under international collision regulations and had ample opportunity to avoid hitting it.
It also found that the Ady Gil failed to take evasive action and its helmsman did not see the Japanese ship bearing down on it moments before the impact.
07/01/2011 Foreign Affairs Chased Whaling Compromise
The federal government is mounting a determined defence of its whaling policy in the wake of WikiLeaks disclosures that spotlight deep internal rifts over whether to compromise with Japan.
People involved in marathon global peace talks over whaling confirmed yesterday the evidence from leaked US diplomatic cables that the Department of Foreign Affairs was pushing for a deal throughout.
Its officials favoured a bargain that would allow Japan a controlled whaling phase-out in the Antarctic, and resisted the push to take Tokyo to an international court, sources told the Herald.
The cables show a Foreign Affairs official complaing to US diplomats that efforts to strike a deal had "bounced off" the then environment minister, Peter Garrett, who instead had challanged the US led effort to obtain an agreement.
Proposals floated in the peace talks to let Japan whale in the North Pacific, but not in the Antarctic, gained Foreign Affairs backing, according to the cables. Mr Garrett never accepted them, sources said.
Eventually Japan's refusal to phase out its Antarctic hunt, or even substantially reduce it, left the peace talks at a stalemate and Mr Garrett prevailed.
Cabinet agreed to start the legal action now under way at the International Court of Justice and maintained the blanket opposition to whaling held by successive Australian governments for more than 30 years.
The 3 years of peace talks under the auspices of the International Whaling Commission finally hit a wall 6 months ago at its annual meeting in Agadir in Morocco and there have been no efforts to revive them.
Mr Garrett was on leave yesterday and unavailable to comment, the Environment Minister, Tony Burke, refused to comment on the substance of the cables.
However, Mr Burke told reports in Sydney that the ultimate decision of the government at the time was whether what was on offer diplomatically would satisfy Australia.
"Austalia's view was that whaling should end, "Mr Burke said. "Nothing in the diplomtic discussions, as it turned out, was going to bring an end to whaling by Japan. Therefore we took them to court.
"Make no mistake, this is an issue where we have a markedly different view than Japan.
"This is not something where the government, or Australians generally, see a whole lot of grey areas."
The Greens leader, Bob Brown, said the leaks highlighted that there was still far too much silence from Canberra on the whaling issue, he again called for surveillance of the whaling fleet now in Antarctic waters.
Mr Burke said the fleet was still in New Zealand's search and rescue zone, but he left open the prospect of sending a monitoring vessel. "There's been no decision on that at this stage," he said.
The cables also revealed an attempt by the chief US whaling negotiator, Monica Medina, to meet Japanese demands to move against Sea Shepherd activists by stripping the group of its US tax free status.
The Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson said he was confident any such attempt would fail. He said the fleet was still running westward last night, north of the Ross Sea. "As long as they're running, that's fine, because no whales are being taken."
06/01/2011 Looks Like a Ramming by the Japs into Conservationists
The conservationists quickly drove a fast speed boat (rib) towards the back of the killer ship Yushin Maru No 2, they were ready to drop a rope around the Yushin Maru No 2's propeller, which would have stopped the Yushin Marys No 2 approaching and hitting the Goijira.
Last year the Japanese whalers rammed a conservation ship the Ady Gil and cut it in half, there was six people on board.
The fast vessel was working with Paul Watson's conservation group. Another incident saw the Japs prepare a water cannon to aim at the conservationists helicopter which had just landed on a conservation ship. The helicopter crew saw this happening and took off before the hose could start. The Japanese ship was then chased off by a conservation ship.