Japan denies problem despite whale hunt delay
THE Japanese government has confirmed plans to go whaling in the Antarctic this summer amid speculation over the late departure of a key ship.
Tokyo called for other nations, including Australia, to ''respect'' an order by a US court restraining the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd from attacking the whaling fleet.
The factory ship, Nisshin Maru, returned to the port of Innoshima on Thursday following what is believed to have been sea trials after a refit, Greenpeace said.
Nisshin Maru is more than a month past its usual departure date. Activists calculate it cannot reach the Antarctic until mid-January at the earliest, for a season that winds up in mid-March.
Japan's consul-general in Melbourne, Hidenobu Sobashima, on Friday reaffirmed the government's practice of refusing to comment on the fleet's movements.
But Mr Sobashima told Fairfax Media: ''Yes, the government of Japan has made an announcement that research whaling would be conducted this season.''
The Australian government, together with the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States, issued a statement calling for safety at sea. ''We condemn dangerous or unlawful behaviour at sea by any party in the Southern Ocean or elsewhere,'' the statement said. ''We are prepared to deal with unlawful activity in accordance with relevant international and domestic laws.''
The four also reaffirmed their opposition to commercial and so-called ''scientific'' whaling.
With two Sea Shepherd vessels flagged to Australia, and two to the Netherlands, Mr Sobashima said it was incumbent on them to take measures to ensure safety at sea.