TOKYO, April 13 (Reuters) - Japanese coast guard and police will inspect the country’s whaling fleet this week after the ships’ heated clashes with conservation activists in the Southern Ocean earlier in the year, media reported on Sunday.
Investigations so far have eyed possible charges such as assault and obstruction of business through threats, although authorities will probably have a hard time identifying suspects, Kyodo news agency said.
The fleet returns to Tokyo this week after a tumultuous hunting season marred by confrontations with hardline anti-whaling activists.
Last month, members of the Sea Shepherd group threw bottles and containers of foul-smelling substances at a whaling ship in an attempt to disrupt the hunt, resulting in three sailors complaining of eye irritation.
The incident followed a high-profile standoff in January in which two activists boarded another Japanese whaling ship.
The clashes led to a spate of diplomatic complaints between Japan and Australia, with the Australian government, while strongly opposed to whaling, urging both sides to show restraint.
Australia has promised to try to stop Japan’s whaling, and is considering international legal action, although the two countries have agreed not to let the issue hurt ties.
Japan, which considers whaling a cultural tradition, abandoned commercial whaling after agreeing to an international whaling moratorium in 1986, but began what it calls a scientific research whaling programme the following year. (Reporting by Chisa Fujioka; Editing by Jerry Norton)