After discovering a support ship for a Japanese whaling fleet in pursuit of environmental activists Australian waters this week, the Australian government filed an official protest with Tokyo demanding the fleet leave its territorial waters in the Southern Ocean.
After tailing the Sea Shepherd's Bob Barker vessel earlier this week, the Japanese Shonan Maru No 2 entered the country's exclusive economic zone despite warnings "on a number of occasions that vessels associated with its whaling program are not welcome in Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone or Territorial Sea," Australia environment minister Tony Burke said in a statment issued Thursday.
Bob Brown, former Australian Green party leader, who assumed leadership of the Sea Shepherd's anti-whaling campaign from founder Paul Watson earlier this month, told ABC News that "Tokyo has ignored the call from the federal government for this part of the whaling fleet not to enter the zone."
Whalers claim the Shonan Maru No 2 provides "security" to the rest of the fleet each winter as it sails to the Southern Ocean for what it calls "scientific research"—despite a 25-year-old ban on commercial whaling. But each year the fleet hopes to kill 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales.
However, run-ins with the Sea Shepherd vessels during the past two years have kept catches lower than expected, according to The Guardian.
Brown told ABC:
[The Shonan Maru No 2] is accompanying the whaling ships into the killing fields off Antarctica.
When the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker made contact with the factory ship, this ship tailed Bob Barker and has been doing so for a couple of days.
The Bob Barker has lost the [factory ship] Nisshin Maru but that was after it was hunted out of the whaling area and this Customs vessel, this government vessel, has kept with the Bob Barker through to Macquarie Island and into Australia's economic zone waters.
Channel News Asia reports that the Sea Shepherd's ship left Australia and on Wednesday located and was tailing the harpoon ship Yushin Maru No 3.
"This vessel has armed personnel aboard," Brown said. "It is an affront to Australia that it is entering our territorial waters surrounding the World Heritage-listed Macquarie Island, which is part of Tasmania."
In December, the Australian government said it had lodged a legal challenge to Japanese whaling at international court of justice in The Hague, and expects it to be heard this year, Japan Today reports.