Japan has confirmed plans to go whaling in the Antarctic this summer, as the whalers fight for government funding to overhaul the ageing factory ship, Nisshin Maru.
The Fisheries Agency of Japan (FAJ) wants to immediately refurbish the world's only factory whaling ship, to give it another 10 years' operation.
But the official in charge of whaling, Tatsuya Nakaoku, told AFP: "there is no possibility" Japan will miss the voyage this year.
In the Antarctic, the whalers are set to face the largest anti-whaling fleet yet mounted. Sea Shepherd plans to send 120 crew aboard four ships, with two helicopters and aerial drones.
The group's leader, Paul Watson said it had the whaling ships under observation and they were being prepared and outfitted to return to the Southern Ocean.
"Our campaign will continue with the objective of shutting down their operations 100 per cent," he told Fairfax.
A Japanese government committee will consider on Friday whether to subsidise the whaling program under a broad fisheries assistance scheme.
Last year the whalers overcame opponents in a government review committee to win $28.5 million in a tsunami relief mini-budget, in addition to their usual $13 million base subsidy.
According to the respected Asahi newspaper, this year the Ministry of Finance is against any increase in the base subsidy.
But the FAJ is said to be examining options for refurbishing the 25-year-old ship under the Profitable Fishery Foundation Support scheme as it seeks to achieve energy and cost savings.
Australia is arguing in the International Court of Justice that Tokyo disguised its commercial whaling as research.
The Asahi said the idea of there being no hunt this year had met with some opposition from politicians, afraid a disruption for even one year would make Japan look "weak-kneed".
It said the refit, if approved, could take several months. Nisshin Maru usually leaves for the Antarctic in mid-November with its whale chasers and resupply ship.
Greenpeace said that, with three-quarters of the whale catch unsold, the market for the meat had all but disappeared.
"Every year this industry sinks further into unmanageable debt and the mountain of whale meat in frozen storage increases, said Junichi Sato, Greenpeace Japan executive director.
"We repeat our call for an end to this senseless hunt.”
- with AFP