Monday, January 29, 2007

Greenpeace to confront Japanese whalers in Southern Ocean

WELLINGTON (AFP) - A Greenpeace ship is set to sail from Auckland for the Southern Ocean to confront Japanese whalers as the New Zealand government released film of the fleet slaughtering whales. The Esperanza will attempt to manoeuvre small inflatable boats between the whaling ships and their prey, preventing the Japanese from firing their harpoons."It is risky and the environment of the Southern Ocean has its own risks but everyone on board acknowledges the risks," Greenpeace team leader Karli Thomas said on the eve of departure.Thomas said the environmental organisation's campaign aimed to prevent as many whale deaths as possible and to raise awareness during the whaling season.A global moratorium on commercial whaling has been in force since 1986 but Japan still catches whales for what it claims is scientific research. However, it admits the whale meat ends up on dinner plates.A fleet of six Japanese ships has been sent to the Southern Ocean with plans to kill up to 850 minke whales and 10 fin whales during the December to March whaling season, the Japanese Fisheries Agency said.New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter Friday released footage of the Japanese fleet harpooning and cutting up whales caught in the Southern Ocean.The film was taken in the previous 48 hours from a New Zealand Air Force surveillance aircraft which had been policing illegal fishing.Carter told a press conference the government had taken the "very unusual" step of releasing the film to allow the public to make up their own minds about Japanese whaling. "Is it science or is it butchery?" he said.Also protesting the Japanese whaling is another protest ship, the Farley Mowat, from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.Sea Shepherd president Paul Watson said earlier this month he planned to use a specially designed ram to tear the hull of the Japanese whalers above the waterline.Carter said last week he was worried about the possibility of violence in the Southern Ocean as the protest groups confront the Japanese fleet."Captain Watson seems intent on having a violent confrontation with the Japanese whaling fleet," he said. He also said powerful water cannons used last year by the Japanese against the protesters put lives at risk."I urge all parties to refrain from any acts that may be a risk to human life."The New Zealand and Australian governments have led a campaign to persuade other countries in the International Whaling Commission to oppose a proposal by Japan and other pro-whaling countries to resume commercial whaling.

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