Japan's whalers defy Antarctic laws - new report

Wednesday, 21 January, 2009
(Sydney, Australia - 20 January 2009) - An independent group of Antarctic law and policy experts, convened in Canberra by IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare), has released a report detailing options available to the Australian government to challenge Japan’s whaling programme through the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS).

“The report creates a new diplomatic and legal front for the Australian government to challenge Japan’s Southern Ocean whaling programme as being inconsistent with the Antarctic legal regime,” Canberra Panel Chair and Australian National University Professor of International Law, Don Rothwell, said.

Under the ATS any activities in the extremely sensitive Antarctic and Southern Ocean are subject to rigorous environmental impact assessments before they are permitted to proceed. Activities include the construction of new scientific bases, tourism and scientific research.

Despite their whaling programme being one of the biggest maritime operations in the Antarctic every year, the government of Japan has not met this obligation. Currently the whalers operate with sub-Antarctic standard vessels and undertake extremely dangerous operations such as refuelling at sea. The environmental risks associated with Antarctic whaling were clearly highlighted in 2007 by the explosion and subsequent fire onboard the whale factory vessel, the Nisshin Maru, which could have resulted in the spillage of chemicals and hundreds of tonnes of fuel oil.

“Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are governed by one of the most comprehensive environmental legal regimes. Why is Japanese whaling exempt from that regime?” Professor Rothwell said.

“Antarctica has been designated as a natural reserve to protect its unique environment for future generations. Japanese whaling is already a stain on this environment,” IFAW Programmes Manager Darren Kindleysides said.

“It is inexplicable and inexcusable that Japan’s whalers be allowed to operate without any accountability. IFAW urges the Australian government to lodge a strong protest at the next Antarctic Treaty Consultative Mechanism meeting in America in April,” Mr Kindleysides said.

The Canberra Panel report endorses previous Legal Opinions, sought by IFAW, that concluded the Australian government can take Japan to the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to challenge the legitimacy of Japan’s ‘scientific’ whaling programme.

“The Australian government has been provided with yet another legal and diplomatic avenue for stopping Japan’s illegal, inhumane and unnecessary whaling programme. The government must take responsibility for upholding international laws, fulfil its election promises and stop Japan’s whaling programme once and for all,” Mr Kindleysides said.

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