Japan’s whaling fleet to leave for Antarctic despite criticism

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Tokyo (dpa) – A Japanese fleet is to set sail for the Antarctic for “research whaling,” the government said Monday, in defiance of an international court ruling that it end the programme.

The four ships planned to depart from western Japan on Tuesday to hunt whales for what they call scientific research in the Southern Ocean from late December to early March, the Fisheries Agency said.

The hunt will be the first since the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled in March 2014 that Japan’s research whaling was not scientific, prompting Tokyo to halt its whaling for a year and revise its programme.

According to a revised government plan, the fleet will catch up to 333 minke whales, about one-third of what Japan used to kill, the agency said.

The International Whaling Commission’s expert panel requested earlier this year Japan further look into whether it is necessary to kill whales for research purposes.

Tuesday’s departure will come after Japan announced late Friday that it would resume whaling after a one-year hiatus.

The announcement prompted Australia, New Zealand and environmental groups to condemn Japan’s move.

Australia “strongly opposes the decision by Japan to resuming whaling,” Environment Minister Greg Hunt said Saturday, Kyodo News agency reported.

“Australia will continue to pursue the issue through the International Whaling Commission and in direct discussions with Japan,” he said.

New Zealand acting Foreign Minister Todd McClay was quoted by Radio New Zealand Sunday as saying, “It’s deeply disappointing. New Zealand stands strongly against any whaling in the Southern Ocean and we view this as a backward step.”

Japan has put more taxpayers’ money into the whaling programme despite dwindling catches, Japanese NGOs and civic groups said in a joint statement Monday.

The groups, including Greenpeace Japan and FoE Japan, urged the Japanese government to comply with international rules and not to resume its research whaling.

Most Japanese consumers do not eat whale meat, but vested interests continue to run the money-losing operation, critics say.

In 1986, the International Whaling Commission imposed a commercial ban on whaling, but Japan has used a loophole to continue the practice under the premise of scientific research, despite international opposition.

“The government should halt its research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean and protect and preserve marine environments,” the Japanese groups said.

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