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Tsunami aid protects whale hunters
Japan has used £3.5m from a disaster fund to pay for a security ship to keep protesters away from its whaling fleet

JAPAN has spent more than £3.5m from its tsunami disaster fund on a security ship with armed guards to protect the country’s whaling fleet from environmental campaigners as it sets out to kill 900 whales.

A dangerous duel is shaping up between the Japanese and the Sea Shepherd conservation group in the chill waters of the Southern Ocean this month.

“I’ll have four ships, a helicopter, 120 crew from 26 nations and two drones ready to meet them,” said Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd, by satellite phone from the Steve Irwin, one of the group’s vessels.

“This campaign is called Operation Zero Tolerance, and our objective is to make sure they don’t kill any whales.”

The Japanese whalers will be protected by at least one security ship carrying armed coastguards. Media reports suggest there could be reinforcements, although strict official secrecy has been maintained.

The whalers received more than £3.5m specifically to fund the security ship last year in controversial appropriations from a government disaster fund, according to the minutes of a Japanese parliamentary committee.

Kazuyoshi Motokawa, the head of the Japanese fisheries agency, told the committee at a hearing on October 23 that coastguards and fisheries officials would be on board. Japanese coastguards are armed as a matter of routine,

Members of parliament were outraged to learn that the money came from the Tohoku disaster fund, which is meant to pay for relief and reconstruction in northeast Japan following the 2011 tsunami, earthquake and nuclear meltdown.

Takahior Sasaki, the vice-minister for agriculture, forestry and fisheries, promised them that future spending would come from the regular budget.

A total of about £17m was diverted from the fund to the fisheries agency, which passed most of it on to the Institute of Cetacean Research, the official whaling industry body.

The institute is supposed to fund itself through subsidies and sales of whale meat but the taste for whale has steadily declined, especially among younger Japanese consumers.

None of Japan’s whaling ports was affected by the 2011 disasters but officials claimed that the money would help whale processing industries in Ishinomaki, a town hit by the tsunami.

In a final meeting on November 15, Masazumi Goto, the parliamentary committee chairman, criticised the vice-minister’s explanation as “extremely inadequate”.

Watson claimed that some of the disaster money had been spent on an international legal campaign to harass him and Sea Shepherd through a court injunction and an attempt to have him arrested by Interpol.

“When people around the world sent money to Japan, the last thing they thought was that it was going to protect the whaling fleet,” Watson said.

He is planning to deploy “military-style” drones for reconnaissance and documentation, then to move in aggressively to block the Japanese from dragging dead whales up the slipway of their factory ship, the 8,044-ton Nisshin Maru.

“It’s extremely dangerous, although I’m proud of the fact that we’ve never injured anybody and we don’t intend to, and we’ve never had anybody seriously injured,” he said.

Watson said that in 2010 the Japanese “cut one of our boats in half and almost killed six of our crew”. The Japanese dispute the claim and an Australian government inquiry into the incident did not back either side.

But emotions are running high in both fleets, with deeply motivated Sea Shepherd volunteers prepared to risk their lives intercepting the whalers, and the Japanese seamen imbued with a patriotic sense that they are defending a national tradition.

Three “hunting vessels” of about 750 tons each sailed out of the southwestern port of Shimonoseki last weekend and will rendezvous later this month with their factory ship near a whale sanctuary in the Southern Ocean.

Official Japanese statements say their target is to kill 850 minke whales and 50 finbacks “to obtain scientific knowledge for the purpose of utilising whale resources in a sustainable way”.

Against them, Sea Shepherd has the Steve Irwin and two more ships, the Brigitte Bardot and the Bob Barker, sailing from New Zealand.

A fourth ship is preparing to leave the port of Hobart, Tasmania. Christened the Sam Simon — after one of the men behind the Simpsons cartoon show — it is a former Japanese whaling research ship bought by Sea Shepherd.

Among the Sam Simon’s crew will be Natalie Fox, 30, from Cornwall, who helped to found Women for Whales, a campaigning group.

“With the addition of the Sam Simon we feel that we’re in a position to prevent them from taking any whales,” Donald Monk Watson, 

“We can get them when they arrive, and once we’re on the stern slipway of the Nisshin Maru, our objective is that if they can’t load dead whales, they can’t kill them. And so we block their ability to load.”

This year’s confrontation could have a particularly bad public relations impact on Japan, which received global sympathy and donations after the disasters of 2011.

“What they’re doing is using all this money and effort to turn us into the criminals when in fact Japan is targeting endangered and protected whales in an international whale sanctuary in violation of a global moratorium on whaling,” Donald Monk Watson,
For updates and info, contact scott at planttrees dot org.