Japan’s ships set sail last month on the country’s largest hunt yet, which for the first time since the 1960s will kill humpbacks, one of the most popular animals for Australian whale watchers.
Australia’s new government said Wednesday it would deploy an unarmed customs ship and a surveillance aircraft to monitor the Japanese hunt as well as appoint an envoy in Tokyo to press its case.
There were alleged comments by US ambassador Thomas Schieffer, who reportedly told journalists Wednesday that Japan and the United States agreed on no harvesting of humpback whales for the time being. Japan is denying have made such an agreement.
Japan, which says whaling is part of its culture, is carrying out the hunt in the Antarctic Ocean using a loophole in a 1986 global moratorium on commercial whaling that allows "lethal research" on the giant mammals.
There is also a claim that Japan is planning to build a new whaling factory ship with the capacity to double the nation’s whale kill.
The icebreaker Oceanic Viking, used for customs and fisheries policing, will leave for the Southern Ocean in days to follow the Japanese fleet, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Environment Minister Peter Garrett have told journalists at Reuters.
To avoid a high-seas incident and ease concern in Tokyo, heavy machine guns on the ship and sidearms used by boarding crews would be locked in storage below decks, it was said. Australia is urging Japanese whalers and environmental activists heading for a faceoff in the Antarctic Ocean to show restraint.
Greenpeace has vowed to stage a non-violent campaign but Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson has threatened in the past to ram his ship, recently renamed the Steve Irwin, into Japanese whalers.