Friday, February 18, 2011
Japan Ends Whale Hunt After Pursuit by Activist Group
Japanese officials confirmed the boats will return home after the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) made it impossible for them to continue.
The fleet, which is made up of 180 people on four vessels, is heading back a month earlier than scheduled.
The hunters have already killed 170 minke whales, but this is only a fifth of their intended target catch of 850 whales.
"It has become difficult to secure the fleet's safety. We have no choice but to cut short our research," Japanese fisheries minister Michihiko Kano said.
In the last few weeks the protesters from the international non-profit organisation have thrown red paint, smoke bombs and rancid butter in bottles toward the whaling ships.
Whaling vessel sprays water at Sea Shepherd boat
They also got a rope entangled in the propeller of one of the harpoon vessels, causing it to slow down.
The hunt had been temporarily halted last week when the campaigners chased the Japanese fleet's mother ship - the Nisshin Maru, for 2,000 miles.
This is the first time the country has cited activist pressure as a reason for ending a whaling season prematurely.
The SSCS, who is considered a 'terrorist group' by many in Japan, said the decision was "great news" and it would keep up the pressure next year.
Captain Paul Watson from Sea Shepherds, who is on board the Steve Irwin, 2000 miles south-east of New Zealand in the Ross Sea, told Sky News via Skype: "After seven years the crew are excited that we can go home with a victory.
An activists throws a smoke bomb towards a whaling boat
"Every year we have come down stronger and they have come down weaker. Financially the whaling industry is in trouble and we are the reason for that."
He added: "What we were able to do is find a way from preventing them from whaling.We were physically able to shut them down. We are aggressive but non-violent and we don't break laws."
Clashes between whalers and the activists have escalated over the last few years.
The group introduced a new high-speed ship after one of their boats sank following a collision with a Japanese whaling ship last year.
A device is fired by activists aboard a whaling vessel
And a campaigner was given a two-year suspended jail term by a Japanese court in July for boarding a whaling ship from a jet ski.
Japan introduced "scientific" whaling to evade the commercial whaling ban introduced in 1986, arguing it had a right to monitor the whales' impact on its fishing industry.
Last year, Australia filed a complaint against Japan at the World Court in The Hague to stop scientific whaling in the Southern Ocean.
The decision is expected to come in 2013 or later.