CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has set Japan a November deadline to stop Southern Ocean whaling or face an international legal challenge to its yearly cull, launched by his government.
Australia preferred to find a diplomatic solution to its standoff with Tokyo over the annual whale cull near Antarctica, Rudd said, but was serious about a threat made two years ago to challenge the hunt in an international court.
“If that fails, then we will initiate court action before the commencement of the whaling season in November 2010. That’s the bottom line and we’re very clear to the Japanese, that’s what we intend to do,” he told Australian television Friday.
Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada arrives in Australia this weekend for talks with his Australian counterpart, Stephen Smith, on whaling, security and stalled free trade pact negotiations with Canberra.
Environmentalists have accused Rudd of backpedalling on threats of an International Court of Justice whaling challenge to avoid damaging Australia’s $58 billion trade relationship with Japan and so-far glacial progress on the free trade deal.
Some legal experts believe the cull is in breach of international laws including the Antarctic Treaty System and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. A court challenge would lead to so-called provisional orders for Japan to immediately halt whaling ahead of a full hearing.
Japan is reportedly considering a compromise which would allow it to drastically scale back or abandon its yearly Antarctic hunt provided it is allowed to whale commercially in Japanese coastal waters.
Tokyo will present the proposal before the 85-nation International Whaling Commission at its annual meeting in Morocco in June, despite a similar plan being rejected last year, a Japanese fisheries official said this week.
Japan’s government-backed whaling fleet aims to harpoon up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales, classified as endangered, in the Southern Ocean during the current Southern Hemisphere summer.
Commercial whaling was banned under a 1986 moratorium, but Japan still culls whales saying it is for research purposes.
Tokyo has lodged a protest with New Zealand’s government over a collision last month between an anti-whaling protest boat and a Japanese whaler which caused the activist vessel to sink.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society skipper is being held on board a whaling ship and may face charges in Japan after boarding it at sea to lodge a protest on February 15.
Japan’s government-backed Institute of Cetacean Research posted a video on its website this week showing more clashes between activists and the Japanese fleet, with paint and butyric acid bombs seen being thrown at the whaling ship Nisshin Maru.
Editing by Sugita Katyal