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Antarctic Again to Be Whaling Battleground

ST. HELIER, Jersey, UK, July 12, 2011 (ENS) - The seas around Antarctica will be the scene of confrontations over whaling again this year.

Japan will send its whaling fleet to the Antarctic again, a senior Japanese official has told BBC News, and the Sea Shepherd's anti-whaling vessels will be there to disrupt the hunt.

At the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission, which opened Monday in Jersey, Joji Morishita said Japan plans to send its whaling fleet back to the Southern Ocean to conduct "research" whaling. The IWC allows scientific research but not commercial whaling, which has been banned worldwide since 1986.

"We are now discussing how we can send our fleet back to the Antarctic Ocean," said Morishita, Japan's deputy commissioner to the IWC and a career official in the Fisheries Agency. Japan must overcome financial difficulties and new oil spill regulations in addition to dealing with whale defenders in fast ships determined to prevent whaling.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which forced an early end to Japan's whale hunt last season, says its ships will sail to the Southern Ocean again to disrupt the Japanese whale hunt.

If Japan returns to the Southern Ocean, Sea Shepherd will return to the Southern Ocean," said Sea Shepherd founder and president Captain Paul Watson. "As soon as we get word that they are going to return, we will point our bows southward once again to intercept them."

The Japanese fleet left the Southern Ocean in February six weeks ahead of schedule without taking 90 percent of their self-appointed quota after repeated clashes with the three Sea Shepherd vessels.

At the IWC meeting, the Japanese delegation showed "safety at sea" footage of interaction with Sea Shepherd ships last season - images of conservationists hurling bottles of stinky butyric acid onto the decks, using rope in attempts to foul the whalers' propellers and blocking the shipways to prevent dead whales from being hoisted aboard. The Japanese claim to have been rammed by Sea Shepherd vessels, while the Sea Shepherd claims the Japanese rammed them.

The Japanese IWC delegation said repeatedly that the Sea Shepherd's "terrorist" violence must not be condoned but condemned and asked the countries under which the Sea Shepherd vessels are flagged - The Netherlands and Australia - to take action.

Watson says, "Japan should very well be concerned about safety at sea, considering that during the time their illegal fleets have operated in the Southern Ocean, they have suffered three fatalities, numerous injuries, an oil spill, and two catastrophic fires."

By contrast, said Watson, "The fact remains that Sea Shepherd did not injure a single whaler as evidenced by their own video content."

Sea Shepherd's objective is "to sink the Japanese whaling fleet economically and bankrupt their illegal activities," said Watson.

Sea Shepherd, a U.S. nonprofit based in Friday Harbor, Washington, is the only nongovernmental organization officially banned from attending the IWC meeting, but more Sea Shepherd representatives are in Jersey for the meeting than all of the other NGOs combined.

Sea Shepherd supporters came at their own expense from France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium, New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, and even Japan. More than 60 supporters were present, including the 10-person crew onboard Sea Shepherd's ship the Brigitte Bardot, which arrived in the port of Saint Helier on July 9.

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