Canberra issues ultimatum against Japan over whaling
More than a thousand whales are killed by Japan for unclear scientific research purposes every year. Australian PM Rudd threatens to take the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague by November if Japan does not stop the slaughter of whales, which are at risk of disappearing in Antarctic waters. Whale meat is a highly prized and very expensive delicacy on Japanese menus worth millions of dollars in business.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Japan must cease its whaling activities in Antarctic waters by November this year or Australia will initiate international legal action against it, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said today, a day before Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada is scheduled to arrive in Australia.

Rudd accuses Japanese whalers of killing about a thousand whales, allegedly for scientific research purposes; increasing the likelihood the species will go extinct. Since 1987, more than 10,000 whales have been killed, 1,075 in 2006 alone.

For Don Rothwell, a professor who teaches international law and maritime law at Australian National University, Japan will argue that it has a right to continue “scientific” whaling based on its interpretation of Article 8 of the whaling convention, which allows so-called scientific whaling.

In fact, Australia has a solid argument against Japan’s current whaling programme, Rothwell believes, because it is “an abuse of right of the provisions in the convention dealing with so-called scientific whaling.”

Japan and Australia have been at loggerheads over whaling since 1986 when an international moratorium on commercial whaling was introduced by the International Whaling Commission.

Japan accepted the moratorium Australia championed because whilst it banned commercial whaling, it allowed it for research purposes. Using this argument, Japan has continued whaling in Antarctic waters, coming close to Australian territorial waters.

Tokyo wants to preserve the hunt in order to keep afloat an industry centred on whale meat, a highly prized delicacy in traditional Japanese cuisine that is worth millions of dollars.

Unable to stop Japan legally, Australia and New Zealand have allowed environmental groups to harass Japanese whaling.

Japanese authorities claim it is doing so to understand better the life cycles of whales, their effect on the ecosystem and their population structure.

Masayuki Komatsu, a former Japanese delegate to the IWC who in the past described mink whales as “cockroaches of sea”, said he was “really confident that Japan will win over this litigation.”

As for Rudd, some analysts believe that notwithstanding his stance on whaling, the Australian prime minister is actually trying to regain ground after slipping in the polls, especially among environmentalists. 

He was elected in 2007 promising to take action to stop whaling, but had to backpedal because of opposition from Australian business, concerned about the policy’s impact on trade with Japan.

The latter is in fact Australia’s main trading partner with bilateral trade reaching $ 58 billion last year.

At the same time, whale watching is an important component of Australia’s tourist industry, valued at about US$ 240 million, and well worth defending to the Australian government. Whale hunting could put all of it in jeopardy.