Editor’s Note: 1/7/10 See Update “Death Throes…” below
US-Japan Discussed ‘Action’ Against Anti-Whalers
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 4:32 a.m. EST
TOKYO (AP) — Japanese and American officials discussed taking action to weaken a prominent anti-whaling group, with Tokyo insisting that Sea Shepherd’s confrontations on the high seas actually hurt efforts to reduce whaling, U.S. diplomatic cables show.
The U.S. representative to the International Whaling Commission, Monica Medina, discussed revoking the U.S.-based conservation group’s tax exempt status during a meeting with senior officials from the Fisheries Agency of Japan in November 2009, according to the documents released by WikiLeaks on Monday.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s yearly protest campaigns — which chase Japan’s whaling fleet in boats trying to disrupt the hunt by fouling fishing lines and throwing rancid butter at whalers — have drawn high-profile donors and volunteers, and spawned the popular Animal Planet series “Whale Wars.” In Japan, the harrassment is seen by some as foreign interferance in national affairs, making politicians wary of getting involved.
Action against Sea Shepherd would be a “major element” in achieving success at international negotiations on the number of whales killed each year, the cables cite the director general of Japan’s fisheries agency, Katsuhiro Machida, as saying.
Referring to Sea Shepherd, Medina said “she believes the USG (U.S. government) can demonstrate the group does not deserve tax exempt status based on their aggressive and harmful actions,” according the cables.
Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd, said Japan has previously pressured foreign governments to take action against the group, such as revoking the registration of its ships. He said the organization had last been audited about two years ago, which is before the exchanges detailed in the cables.
“We have had our tax status since 1981, and we have done nothing different since then to cause the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) to change that,” he told The Associated Press by telephone from his ship.
The diplomatic cables, posted on WikiLeaks’ secret-sharing website early Monday but dated Jan. 1, show Japanese officials repeatedly told U.S. counterparts the group’s actions were making whaling a political issue and hurting any chance of a compromise on the numbers of whales killed each year.
Sea Shepherd vessels are currently chasing Japan’s whaling fleet in the Antarctic Ocean in the hopes of interrupting its hunt, which kills up to 1,000 whales annually and typically lasts from December to February.
Japan hunts whales under the research exemption to a 1986 worldwide ban on commercial hunts. Critics say there is no reason to kill the animals, and the research program amounts to commercial whaling in disguise because surplus meat from the hunt is sold domestically.
Protest ships harass the whaling fleet, and clashes between the sides often take place. On Saturday, Watson said that whalers had shot water cannons at anti-whaling activists nearby.
Last January, a Sea Shepherd boat was sunk after its bow was sheared off in a collision with a whaling vessel and a New Zealand protestor was later arrested after he boarded a Japanese whaling ship. He was taken to Tokyo and later deported.
The cables are dated before an International Whaling Commission meeting last year that was seen as a major chance to end a decades long stalemate. They show the U.S. worked with Japan in late 2009 to reach a deal on the issue, calling it an “irritant” in international relations.
The meeting ended without a major agreement.
“Action on the SSCS (Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) would be a major element for Japan in the success of the overall negotiations,” a Japanese official said, according to one cable.
Watson said Monday that his group was against anything less than a complete stop to Japan’s whaling program in Antarctica. The activists hope to block whaling activities for the Japanese fleet so it incurs deep financial losses.
“I don’t think a solution is going to come through politics, it’s going to come through economics,” Watson told The Associated Press by telephone from his ship while pursuing the Japanese fleet.
A BIG, black speedboat again skirmished with a Japanese harpoon ship in the Antarctic this week, a year after the speedboat’s predecessor, the Ady Gil, was hit in the worst incident yet in the long fight over whales.
The Gojira, twice the size of the Ady Gil, raced past the Yushin Maru No. 2 as Sea Shepherd activists fired projectiles from giant slingshots and a launching tube, according to Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research.
The scale and apparent impunity of the Australian-flagged Gojira indicated the battle is tilting against the whalers.
This season a much-reduced Japanese fleet came under attack from a stronger Sea Shepherd outfit only days after arriving in the Antarctic, raising the possibility that few whales may be harpooned.
In the tumultuous past 12 months, the whalers have shared the blame for the Ady Gil collision, and apologised for a whale-meat black market. In Japan, consumer appetite may be declining as sentiment shifts to live whales. And in the way that tax laws finally caught US gangster Al Capone, marine regulations threaten the world’s last factory whaling ship, the Nisshin Maru.
There is no sign of a revival of the collapsed International Whaling Commission (IWC) plan to offer Japan a controlled phase-out of its Antarctic kill.
Instead there is another protest season, as the Australian, Dutch, New Zealand and US governments noted. ”We are deeply concerned that confrontations in the Southern Ocean will eventually lead to injury or loss of life among both whaling crews and protesters, many of whom are nationals of our countries,” a recent joint statement said.
The most detailed inquiry into the Ady Gil crash was conducted by Maritime New Zealand, the marine agency of the boat’s flag state. ”The report reflects a black mark against the masters of both vessels,” MNZ director Catherine Taylor said.
MNZ found the whalers’ security ship, Shonan Maru No. 2, had responsibility to keep clear of the Ady Gil and had ample opportunity to do so. It also found that the Ady Gil’s skipper, Pete Bethune, had failed to keep his vessel clear. His helmsman had limited visibility and did not see the Japanese boat until seconds before impact.
Mr Bethune later boarded the Shonan Maru No. 2 seeking restitution. He was arrested and taken to Tokyo where he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and deported.
The Japan Coast Guard told MNZ it had held a preliminary investigation, found no criminal action by Shonan Maru No. 2’s crew and did not inquire further. But the ship was left out of the fleet this season, and Mr Bethune split acrimoniously with Sea Shepherd over its refusal to take him south again.
Japan’s Fisheries Agency also took a hit recently when it had to censure five officials for taking thousands of dollars worth of whale meat in a fraudulent trade exposed by Greenpeace.
”It’s an act for which we will lose credibility,” spokesman Toyohiko Ota said as he apologised before television cameras.
Whale meat’s popularity in Japan is disputed. The Japanese Iruka & Kujira [Dolphin & Whale] Action Network this week said frozen stocks might have hit a record level of more than 6000 tonnes last August.
But a blogger who tracks the stockpile, David Stevenson, said this was not unusual in a country that stored many kinds of meat.
More pressing is the widely reported irritation of Japanese taxpayers, who must subsidise the whalers to the tune of about $9 million for each Antarctic hunt, according to Greenpeace.
”I’ve been here for 17 years and I do not care if the Japanese eat whale or not,” commented ”Patrick Smash” on the Japan Today website. ”But don’t force taxpayers to fork out for these idiotic expeditions when more meat is already stockpiled than is eaten annually. That status quo is ridiculous.”
The Japanese appear to be seeing more value in live whales. More than 20 whale-watching businesses attended a pre-Christmas conference in Tokyo organised by the International Fund for Animal Welfare. ”What I sense now is that the whaling industry is in its death throes,” said the fund’s global whales program manager, Patrick Ramage.
Two years ago, the Japanese fleet was effectively eight ships strong. This year it has four, with doubts that a resupply vessel will be available. The whalers were two weeks late reaching the Antarctic, and have told the IWC their season will wind up a month earlier than usual.
This may be a response to a short-term financial squeeze, but they face a strategic problem. The Nisshin Maru’s heavy fuel oil will be outlawed in the Antarctic from August by the International Maritime Organisation. Japan, one of the world’s leading maritime nations, will enforce this ban, according to the trade journal Bunkerworld. With no replacement apparent, the factory ship would need a multimillion-dollar refit to comply with the new laws, and money is tight.
Not all is gloomy for the whalers, however. Doubts about how to deal with Tokyo have divided anti-whaling governments and split bureaucracies.
US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks and published in The Age confirm deep rifts between anti-whaling countries on whether to compromise and on the advisability of Australia’s legal action against Japan in the International Court of Justice.
The cables show Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials complaining to US diplomats that efforts to strike a deal ”bounced off” the then environment minister, Peter Garrett. The US embassy was also told of federal cabinet divisions over the legal action, which Foreign Affairs grumbled would either fail or at best make Japan set up a new program. Australia’s case will be presented to the court in May. It will claim breach of faith and international obligations by Japan through a program that has already killed nearly 10,000 whales.