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Activists hail victory over Japan whaling

Saturday, February 19, 2011
By Talek Harris ,AFP


SYDNEY -- Militant conservationists Friday hailed Japan's decision to halt a controversial whaling mission and warned they were strong enough to stop the fleet again if it returns next year.

Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, said Japan's shock withdrawal from hunting grounds was “great news” after his group's seven-year harassment campaign in icy seas off Antarctica.

“It's great news. We will however stay with the Japanese ships until they return north and make sure that they're out of the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary,” Watson told AFP.

“Personally I don't trust them but I will take their word on this and we will follow them out. We're just not going to leave them until we know for sure that they're out of the Southern Ocean.”

Sea Shepherd has had a string of high-seas clashes with the whaling ships, which it tails and pelts with rancid butter stink bombs, while the Japanese have retaliated with water cannon and military-style sonic weapons.

Watson said his group, which has Hollywood support and includes Sean Penn and Pierce Brosnan among its advisors, had strengthened each year while the Japanese fleet had weakened.

“It's been seven very long years. Every year we've gotten stronger and now we're in a position where we have the means to shut them down. That's why they stopped: we physically have prevented them from killing whales,” he said.

“And if they come back next year we'll be stronger even more, and we'll be better equipped to stop them even more efficiently. So whether or not they come back next year I'm pretty confident we can keep them from killing whales down here.”

Tokyo suspended the whale hunt, which is hated by environmentalists but deeply embedded in Japanese culture, on Wednesday before calling it off on Friday, citing harassment by Sea Shepherd.

Australia last year launched legal action at the International Court of Justice seeking to close a loophole in a 1986 global moratorium, which lets Japan kill hundreds of whales a year for research purposes.

The hunt was called off a year after Sea Shepherd's futuristic “Ady Gil” superboat was scythed in two during a bitter clash. Its captain was handed a suspended jail term in Tokyo after subsequently boarding a Japanese ship.

“Our tactics didn't change but we had three vessels down here, a new helicopter, better equipment, (and we were) better funded,” Watson said.

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