[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] Australia: too much anti whaling protest?


(Adelaide Now)

Anti-whaling protest goes overboard
by: Ken McGregor

Anti-whaling ship the Bob Barker and the Japanese whaling ship Yushin Maru No.3 collide in the waters of Antarctica.

AUSTRALIANS are at loggerheads over how activists have stepped up their fight on the Japanese whaling fleet in the icy waters of Antarctica.


A high seas battle between Japanese whalers and "extreme" activists again has reared its head, putting Australians at loggerheads not just with their northern neighbours but also with each other.

Greens leader Bob Brown has backed the "brave" Sea Shepherd activists, while the Japanese, large sections of the public and the Federal Government say the three men overstepped the mark by boarding a whaling ship last Saturday night.

Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon joined the public chorus in condemning the men's actions, threatening to charge them with a rescue bill of several hundred thousand dollars.

This is not the first time the militant conservationists and the whalers have clashed - Sea Shepherd's $1.5 million stealth boat the Ady Gil sank after a collision with the Shonan Maru No.2 in January 2010 - and the protesters warn it will not be the last.

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In the weeks leading up to the boarding of the whaling ship, the Japanese claimed they were under attack from activists, who threw stink bombs made up of butyric acid, or rotten butter, and aimed ropes at the propeller and rudder of the whaling vessel.

The whalers have fought back by using water cannons against activists who pulled up alongside in Sea Shepherd's inflatable Zodiac boat.

While most Australians are against whaling, the more the activists step up their protests the less support they will receive from the public, social analyst David Chalke says.

"Australians dislike extremists in any cause, it is deep within our psyche," he said.

"We respect the rights of others to have an opinion but we believe you do not go and do things like that just because you are not happy. People sometimes get that (our psyche) confused with Islamophobia, but it really encompasses all extreme views."

He said public opinion, however, would do little to sway the actions of the Sea Shepherd activists.

"(Listening to public opinion) makes the assumption that people like the Sea Shepherd activists are rational, " Mr Chalke said.

"They are passionate zealots in their cause and we (Australians) do not like it."

Most callers on talkback radio and writers of letters to the editor at The Advertiser have supported Mr Chalke's view that the tide of public opinion has been turning against the activists.

"International maritime law prohibits an unauthorised person from boarding a vessel. I have enormous sympathy for their cause and agree the Government should make more of an effort to prevent whaling but if you break the law, you should pay for it," Not Surprised, of South Brighton, writes on Adelaide.Now.

ANOTHER contentious issue is whether the whaling ship was in Australian waters when it was boarded and the perceived lack of Federal Government resolve to stand up to the Japanese government.

The Sea Shepherd crew and Senator Brown claim the ship was in Australian waters. They also claim another Japanese whaling ship, the Yushin Maru 3, has entered Australia's World Heritage protected waters near Macquarie Island, south of Tasmania.

"Australian law prohibits that ship from being there. It is illegal. Tokyo knows that. Canberra knows that," Senator Brown said. "Tokyo is thumbing its nose at what has so far been a weak action from Canberra."

The Sea Shepherd's supporters, Forest Rescue, also have found predictable allies in their war against the whalers in Greenpeace. Spokesman James Lorenz said the group understood the frustration of the activists after decades of defiance by the Japanese whalers and their government.

"The majority of the Australian public are against the whaling and it is up to the Federal Government to bring a stop to it," he said.

He understood political issues were hampering the Federal Government, but it appeared the Japanese had no intention of respecting Australian sovereignty and laws in parts of the Southern Ocean.

"In some areas where the government fails, peaceful protest can be the answer," Mr Lorenz said.

"Women would not have the right to vote, we would not have national parks without peaceful protest."

At the heart of the issue, however, is whether the Sea Shepherd's actions constitute "peaceful protest".

Ms Roxon said the boarding of the Japanese vessel took place outside territorial waters and, as a result, legal options were "quite limited". "I understand many, many millions of Australians want whaling to stop," she said. "But if people take the law into their own hands there are consequences for doing that. We can't simply enforce our will upon a boat which is flagged to another nation and not in our territorial waters."

The Japanese kill hundreds of whales a year under a loophole in a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling that allows "lethal research", despite having an alleged excess of whale meat in storage.

This summer the Japanese have sent four harpoon vessels - the Yushin Maru, Yushin Maru No.2, the Yushin Maru No.3 and the factory ship Nisshin Maru. They are targeting 935 minke whales, 50 fin whales and 50 humpbacks.

The Sea Shepherd has sent the Gojira, Steve Irwin and Bob Barker to stop them.

In May 2010, Australia legal case against ntetook Japan to the international court to end whaling in Antarctic waters. It may be years before a decision is reached.

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