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Saturday, Feb. 2, 2008

Five whales harpooned; Australia threatens suit


Staff writer

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith urged Japan to stop hunting whales under the guise of scientific research and threatened to file a lawsuit over the matter Friday, the same day it was reported that Japan had harpooned five whales.

"The Australian government's view and the view of the Australian people is that this is not scientific research. It is the killing of whales," said Smith, who was on a two-day visit to Japan through Friday.

The Fisheries Agency in Tokyo refused to confirm whether the whaling fleet had scored its first kills of the year, but Greenpeace Japan said the Oceanic Viking, an Australian ship monitoring the Japanese fleet, told it the Japanese fleet had killed at least five whales as of Friday.

The fleet left for its annual Antarctic whale hunt in November to catch some 1,000 whales. Although it initially planned to kill 50 humpbacks as well, it canceled the plan in December amid rising international criticism.

Speaking at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Smith said Australia is "giving careful deliberation" to the issue of whether to launch an international lawsuit over the whaling issue.

He also said the Oceanic Viking is gathering evidence on Japan's whaling operations for potential legal action.

Asked if Canberra intends to take action against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, two of whose members boarded a Japanese harpoon ship last month, Smith said Australian police will make a decision on whether they broke the law.

"We do not condone unlawful or illegal activity, nor do we condone actions on the high seas which put at risk people's safety," Smith said. But he added that his government is not responsible for the actions of Sea Shepherd.

In a separate meeting Thursday night with counterpart Masahiko Komura, the two agreed the whaling issue should not negatively affect bilateral ties, said a Japanese official who briefed reporters.

Commenting on the meeting Friday, Komura said whaling experts from Japan and Australia should sit down and hold talks outside the framework of the International Whaling Commission.

"The talks primarily should take place at IWC meetings, but it doesn't mean we will exclude bilateral talks," he said.

Earlier Friday, whaling experts held a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan to brief reporters on discussions held at a Tokyo whaling symposium attended by about 100 officials from the government, academia and nongovernmental organizations.

Tuiloma Neroni Slade, who chaired the symposium held earlier this week, said Japan and antiwhaling nations should come up with a compromise that includes Japan's suspension of research whaling.

In exchange for that, the international community should let Japan conduct coastal whaling and decide on how many whales Japan and other whaling nations should be allowed to take yearly, he said.

"A compromise of some sort can be achieved which involves a give and take on both sides," said Slade, who was once a former presiding judge at the International Criminal Court. "We need to find ways to move forward."

Joji Morishita, a senior official at the Fisheries Agency who also attended the news conference, said: "I will appreciate any reasonable options and we're open to talks."



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