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Whaling could blow a hole in Iceland’s EU talks

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2010 at 8:30 am

BRUSSELS, June 20, 2010 (AFP) – Iceland’s whale hunting tradition despite a ban, which it wants lifted, looms as a major hurdle in its upcoming membership talks with the European Union where all cetaceans are legally protected.

The EU membership talks haven’t started yet, but a European diplomat stressed that “if Iceland continues to practise commercial whale hunting for scientific purposes, that’s going to create a political problem.”

In nearly all areas Iceland has been seen as a perfect EU candidate, and could have started talks earlier had it wanted to.

In a picture taken on June 16, 2010 in Japan, sushi shop owner Katsuji Furuuchi makes up whale sushi from sliced minke meats and pieces of blubber in Japanese whaling town Ayukawahama, Miyagi prefecture. Ayukawahama was once a major whaling port. AFP

Its European credentials are impressive already; a member of the unfettered travel Schengen area and the European Economic Area as well as a fully fledged NATO nation, Iceland ticks most of the boxes.

In trade terms the ties are equally strong, more than half of Iceland’s imports come from the EU and three-quarters of its exports go there.

All those factors are reasons why European heads of state and government gave the candidacy the go-ahead at an EU summit in Brussels last Thursday.

However a February report by the EU Commission on Iceland’s application for membership was clear: “Necessary steps will need to be undertaken as regards the protection of cetaceans”.

Britain and Germany have urged their EU partners to resist a call, expected at an International Whaling Commission meeting in Morocco this week, to lift the moratorium on whale hunting which has Iceland’s support and that of fellow whaling nations Japan and Norway.

The German parliament in a resolution has urged the government to ensure that a whale hunting ban remains a sine qua non for Iceland’s EU hopes.

An Icelandic diplomat said his country had applied to join the club, after the global downturn battered its economy, knowing a solution will have to be found, but not thinking that solution must necessarily be an end to whale hunting.

“Iceland would as a starting negotiating position seek a way to maintain this exception in order to preserve this centuries old, sustainable tradition,” he said.

“We are aware that this is a very sensitive topic,” an EU Commission spokeswoman said, citing the EU accession rule of “possible transitional periods or even derogation from some pieces of the (EU) legislation.”

Icelandic hunters specialise in taking the fin whale, with a quota of 150 this year.

The country resumed commercial whaling in 2006, and in 2009 set a quota for 150 fin whales, the second largest animals, over five years, despite their “endangered” status, according to WWF.

Not only is that against EU rules but it is “also unnecessary,” argues Saskia Richartz, marine specialist for Greenpeace in Brussels.

“Most of the 1,500 tonnes of meat produced last year continue to sit in freezers,” she adds.

Icelandic political scientist Eirikur Bergmann agrees that whaling is not important for its economic contribution.

“It‘s more a matter of independence and emotions, nationalism.”

And in Iceland opinions are divided, according to Arni Thor Sigurdsson, chair of the Icelandic parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

“I personally don‘t think we should do it because it doesn‘t help our economy in any way,” he said.

What is sure is that the matter will have to be addressed as Iceland attempts to negotiate the 30-plus accession chapters, including one on the environment, which all candidate nations must do to the satisfaction of the current EU members.

Nor is whaling the only potential pitfall.

Indeed fisheries in general were already being seen as a major sticking point after EU leaders on Thursday agreed to grant Iceland candidate nation status.

The part-Arctic nation is fiercely protective of the abundant fishing waters around its shores and has shown no sign that it is prepared to freely open up these seas to European partners.

Britain and the Netherlands also want Reykjavik to negotiate a compensation deal for their citizens hit by the fall of the online Icesave bank in October 2008.

“If whaling becomes the main obstacle, then we‘ll just have to reconsider the whole process,” said Sigurdsson.

The European Union expects Iceland to reconsider the whaling, rather than the membership.

Source: SGGP

Australia begins legal action to stop Japan whaling

In Uncategorized on June 1, 2010 at 7:47 am

TOKYO (AFP) – Australia has launched legal action at the International Court of Justice to stop Japan’s whaling programme, Japanese officials said Tuesday, calling the move “extremely regrettable”.

“We were informed that Australia has filed a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice regarding research whaling. We will discuss how to deal with it,” said a fisheries agency official.

Hirofumi Hirano, Japan’s top government spokesman, said: “I think it is extremely regrettable. The Japanese government will deal with it properly, based on our position.”

Inflatable humpback whales with the Sydney Opera House (top), help to launch the official start of the whale watching season in Sydney on June 1, 2010. AFP photo

Japan defends whaling as part of its cultural tradition and hunts the ocean giants under a loophole in a 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling that allows lethal “scientific research”.

Australia has long protested the hunts, including annual whaling expeditions in Antarctic waters, and has in recent months hardened its stance, announcing last week that it would launch legal action in The Hague.

“We want to see an end to whales being killed in the name of science in the Southern Ocean,” said Environment Protection Minister Peter Garrett last week, vowing “to bring a permanent end to whaling in the Southern Ocean”.

A Japanese foreign ministry official told AFP on Tuesday: “We are studying our strategy regarding the lawsuit. Details are yet to be decided, but we won’t disclose our strategy even after we make a decision.”

Source: SGGP

Australia to take Japan to court over whaling

In Uncategorized on May 28, 2010 at 5:10 am

Australia announced Friday it will take Japan to the International Court of Justice to argue that its annual Antarctic whale kill violates international obligations, in a major escalation of the Australian campaign against the hunt.

The decision to take legal action against Australia’s important trading partner underlines the government’s “commitment to bring to an end Japan’s program of so-called scientific whaling” in the southern seas, Environment Minister Peter Garrett and Attorney-General Robert McClelland said in a joint statement.

Japan gets around an international ban on commercial whaling by arguing that it harpoons hundreds of whales each year for scientific research.

In this file photo from Jan. 7, 2006 and provided by Greenpeace the Japasnese whaling ship Yushin Maru captures a whale after harpooning the mammal in the Southern Ocean

The Australian government has said the hunt is in breach of international obligations, but has declined to release any details of how it will argue its case before the court in The Hague.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry said it was regrettable that Australia was bringing the issue before the court while negotiations continue within the International Whaling Commission on disputes over whale hunts.

“We will continue to explain that the scientific whaling that we are conducting is lawful in accordance with Article 8 of the international convention for the regulation of whaling,” said ministry Deputy Press Secretary Hidenobu Sobashima. “If it goes to the court, we are prepared to explain that.”

Sobashima said the issue “shouldn’t jeopardize the overall good relations between Japan and Australia.”

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith echoed that sentiment, saying the two countries have agreed to treat the matter as “an independent legal arbitration of a disagreement between friends.”

The International Whaling Commission is separately trying to resolve long-running disputes over the hunting of whales by several countries despite a 25-year-old moratorium on hunts. The plan would effectively allow commercial whaling for the first time since the ban, but under strict quotas.

Commission chairman Cristian Maquieira expressed optimism Thursday in Washington that the issue could be resolved at a meeting next month in Morocco. But senior U.S. official Monica Medina said the current proposal would allow the hunting of too many whales, signaling difficult negotiations ahead.

Japan, Norway and Iceland, which harpoon around 2,000 whales annually, argue that many species are abundant enough to continue hunting them. They are backed by around half the IWC’s 88 member nations.

Australia has declared the southern seas a whale sanctuary and has long lobbied for an end to whaling there.

A panel of lawyers and conservationists reported to the Australian and New Zealand governments last year that Japanese whaling in the Antarctic could be stopped if Japan were held accountable for dumping waste and for undertaking hazardous refueling at sea. The Canberra Panel said that activity violates the 46-member Antarctic Treaty System, to which Japan belongs.

Don Anton, an international law professor at Australian National University in Canberra, said Australia could argue that Japan is abusing its rights under under the whaling commission’s 1946 Convention, which allows for scientific whaling permits. Australia could claim that the number of whales Japan kills each year is far more than necessary for scientific research, that nonlethal research alternatives exist and that there is a commercial aspect to the scientific program.

Australia could also argue that Japan has failed to conduct an adequate environmental impact assessment before engaging in whaling as required by the Madrid Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty, Anton said.

The annual Japanese whale hunt also is a target for protests by conservationists, with vessels of the U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society sometimes clashing with the whaling fleet.

Sea Shepherd activist Peter Bethune, who boarded a Japanese whaling ship as part of a protest in February, pleaded guilty in a Tokyo court on Thursday to charges including trespassing and destruction of property. The 45-year-old New Zealander could face up to 15 years in prison.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s center-left Labor Party was elected in 2007 on a promise to take Japan to court to end what Australia argues is commercial whaling in disguise. Rudd later said Australia would focus on diplomatic efforts to persuade Japan to end its annual whale hunt.

The announcement Friday delivers on Labor’s promise, months from an election on a date to be announced late this year.

Source: SGGP

Activists dodge Japanese whaling fleet after skirmish

In Uncategorized on December 17, 2009 at 2:09 pm

 Militant anti-whaling activists said they were dodging a Japanese surveillance ship in icebergs near Antarctica on Wednesday, following their first skirmish with whalers during the annual hunt.

Paul Watson, who is leading a campaign to harass this season’s hunt, said a ship loaded with Japanese security guards had been tailing his group since they left Western Australia on December 7.

When they attempted to approach the Shonan Maru No.2 from behind an iceberg on Monday, Watson said the Japanese targeted them with two water cannon and tailed them for two hours in a high-speed pursuit.

This handout photo released by the Sea Shepherd Society shows the Japanese ship Shonan Maru No. 2 in the seas off Antarctica on December 14.

“We had our water cannons at ready but we never opened up on them,” Watson told AFP, speaking via satellite phone from Antarctic waters.

“As long as they’re following us, they can relay our position to the whaling fleet so they can move if we’re approaching them,” he said.

Japan‘s government-backed Institute of Cetacean Research, which runs the whaling expeditions, said the water cannon was used because Watson’s ship had come dangerously close.

“It was only a normal warning procedure after we repeatedly issued verbal warnings,” said an official. “They know that we use water if they ignore our warnings and get close.

“Then they took pictures for the media, and the media got excited. We are only seeing the same pattern,” he said.

Watson said the Shonan Maru No.2 was still tailing them Wednesday, but that “we’re going to try and lose them in the ice pack down here off the coast.”

“They said if we try to block the operations they’ll put their ship between us and the harpoon vessels, which will most likely result in collisions,” Watson said.

“But we’re not going to back down, we’re there to block their operations and we’re not going to back down because they try to force us out of the way.”

Despite the beefed-up security, Watson said he was confident of disrupting the hunt for a sixth year, saying the activists had a futuristic powerboat which would be able to outrun the ships and block their harpoons.

“It’ll be our interceptor vessel, I think it will make a big difference,” he said.

Japan’s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama this week asked visiting Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd to rein in the activists, describing their actions as “sabotage.”

The Sea Shepherd have chased Japanese whalers for years, sometimes hurling projectiles and climbing aboard Japanese ships, earning them the label of “eco-terrorists” in Japan and hardening the country’s position on whaling.

Hatoyama dismissed threats from Rudd that he would haul Japan before an international tribunal, saying his country’s whaling activity was legal.

Australia’s Greens party said the Rudd government should threaten to abandon a proposed free trade deal with Japan to force Tokyo‘s hand.

“Probably nothing else will get the Japanese prime minister‘s attention more than linking our concern and our desire to end whaling in Antarctica immediately with negotiations over the free trade agreement,” said Greens senator Rachel Siewert.

The FTA talks began in 2007, and the ninth round of negotiations was held in Canberra in July.

An international moratorium on commercial whaling was imposed in 1986 but Japan kills hundreds each year using a loophole that allows “lethal research” on the ocean giants.

Japan makes no secret that the meat ends up on dinner tables, and accuses Western nations of not respecting its culture.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share