(Note: there is a link in the article to an excellent video filmed in December: "All Aboard the Farley Mowat")


Japan's whalers threaten to call airborne police

Crew from the Sea Shepherd get up close and personal with the giant bow of the Japanese whaler Nisshin Maru.

Related coverage

Deborah Cameron, Tokyo
January 10, 2006

JAPAN will consider scrambling police aircraft to the Antarctic to defend its whaling fleet and may ask Australia to act against Greenpeace.

"If Greenpeace action becomes more aggressive, the Fisheries Agency may ask the Maritime Police Agency to dispatch aircraft," the deputy director of the Far Seas Fisheries Division of the Fisheries Agency, Hideki Moronuki, told the The Age yesterday.

"Or the agency may ask the Government of Australia to take action to normalise the situation."

The possible request to Canberra for protection creates a diplomatic minefield for Australia. Japan is Australia's biggest trading partner and a crucial regional ally.

Mr Moronuki said the exact plans for guarding the whaling fleet the mother ship Nisshin Maru, two whale-spotting craft and three other ships were top secret. He said the Maritime Police Agency, which secures Japan's maritime fleet, did not have personnel on the Nisshin Maru but a government official was on board as an observer and to report on its progress.

Mr Moronuki said Japan's next step would depend on Greenpeace. The warning follows a collision between Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise and the Nisshin Maru.

Japanese alarm is rising over the scale of anti-whaling protests following an attempt yesterday by the hardline anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd to disable the Nisshin Maru.

Sea Shepherd activists in inflatable dinghies tried to foul the ship's propellers using heavy ropes. The attempt was made as Nisshin Maru fled at high-speed following Sunday's collision.

Sailing in close under the bow of the Nisshin Maru, the activists tried to heave the lines under the hull. They failed.

Nisshin Maru was still running clear of pursuers yesterday, except Greenpeace's larger vessel, Esperanza.

On the Esperanza, expedition leader Shane Rattenbury said there was no sign of the rest of the six-ship Japanese fleet and no whales were being processed.

He said the damaged Arctic Sunrise had held watertight after Sunday's collision and was still in the campaign.

The possible dispatch of quasi-military aircraft under the guise of the police to quell a civilian protest in the Antarctic would take the whaling debate to a new level.

The length of the flight between an air base in Japan and the Antarctic raises the prospect that Australia would be needed for a refueling stop and might be asked to grant access to an air corridor.

A spokeswoman for Environment Minister Ian Campbell would not comment on the Japanese plan other than to say the Government did not "deal with hypotheticals".