Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Countries condemn whaling fleet

New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands took the unusual step yesterday of issuing a joint condemnation of the Japanese whaling fleet which has left for the Southern Ocean.

The statement coincided with the planned departure of protest vessels from Australia, including the New Zealand-registered vessel the Ady Gil - a black 24m trimaran formerly called Earthrace, which broke a record for circumnavigation of the globe last year in 61 days.

The three countries called on both the whalers and protesters to exercise restraint because the capacity to send assistance to the Southern Ocean was low.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully joined his Australian counterpart, Stephen Smith, and Netherlands counterpart, Maxime Verhagen, in issuing the statement saying they were "deeply disappointed" at the recent departure of the whaling fleet.

"The governments of Australia, the Netherlands and New Zealand remain resolute in our opposition to so-called 'scientific' whaling," the statement said.

The ministers said they expected the whaling activities would be likely to attract protests including from the Dutch-registered Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessel, the Steve Irwin - which collided with a whaling ship last year - and the Ady Gil, a power boat.

"Our Governments respect the right of individuals and groups to protest peacefully, including on the high seas.

"At the same time, we do not condone - indeed we condemn - dangerous or violent activities, by any of the parties involved, be it demonstrators or whalers."

The ministers said the Southern Ocean was "a remote and inhospitable region" where the risk of adverse incidents was high and the capacity for rescue or assistance low.

"Our governments jointly call upon all parties to exercise restrain and to ensure that safety at sea is the highest priority."

The skipper of the Steve Irwin, Canadian Paul Watson, told AFP that the Ady Gil would be "our interceptor".

With speeds of up to 50 knots it would be able to latch on to a harpoon boat and prevent it killing any whales.

"It should be able to run rings around them."

He said it was named after a Hollywood businessman who had bankrolled the vessel by US$1 million ($1.39 million) for the three-month campaign.

The annual Japanese whale hunt is deemed a scientific expedition in a bid to get around the 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling.

Last summer, a six-vessel fleet caught 680 whales.

Yesterday's ministerial statement said that this summer Australia, in co-operation with New Zealand, would be leading major whale research in Antarctica, which was designed to answer the most pressing research needs for whale conservation and which used the most sophisticated non-lethal scientific techniques.

It said the three countries were participating in a diplomatic process on the future of the International Whaling Commission and believed diplomacy offered the best prospect for advancing whale conservation.

- NZ Herald

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