Australia's attorney general urged Japan on Jan. 9 to release three anti-whaling activists who boarded the fisheries ministry's patrol ship accompanying a group of Japanese scientific whaling vessels in the Antarctic Ocean.
According to the fisheries ministry and the Japan Coast Guard, the three approached the patrol ship aboard a rubber boat and climbed aboard the vessel without permission about 40 kilometers off Bunbury Port in southwest Australia early on the morning of Jan. 8. No injuries were reported among the ship's crew.
The anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said that the three men, all Australians, are members of the Forest Rescue Australian environmental group and were taken into custody by the Japanese government.
Attorney General Nicola Roxon said she hoped a deal could be reached with Japanese authorities to release the three.
"We are representing our views most strongly that they should be released promptly and returned to Australian soil," Roxon said.
In addition, the attorney general also said the ministry patrol ship, which is providing security to the whaling vessels, is not welcome in Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone.
"The ship, people need to remember, is not directly involved in whaling activities, but it is clearly providing a support role, and that may give us some other options if it was trying to come into our territorial waters," she said.
Paul Watson, a representative of Sea Shepherd, told the Asahi Shimbun in a telephone interview that the three men were engaged in protest activities organized by the anti-whaling group.
The three have been identified as Simon Peterffy, 44, Geoffrey Tuxworth, 47, and Glen Pendlebury, 27. They were said to be carrying the message: "Return us to shore in Australia and then remove yourself from our waters."
Watson, claiming they were detained within Australian waters, criticized Japan, saying it had no right to hold Australian citizens within Australian waters.
However, Donald Rothwell, an international law expert from Australian National University, said the three activists could face a wide range of charges under Japanese law and may even have broken Australian law.
"Unauthorized boarding of a Japanese vessel is an act of trespass wherever that act may have taken place at sea," Rothwell said.
Glen Inwood, a New Zealand-based spokesman for Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research, told Australian radio that the three men could be stuck on the patrol boat for as long as it was shadowing the Sea Shepherd vessels, possibly until March or April.
"Not only are they facing that, but they certainly risk being taken to Japan to be tried for trespassing or whatever other charges that Japan feels they may want to issue against them," Inwood said.
The incident is the latest development in the annual battle between activists and Japanese whaling vessels in the Antarctic Ocean.
According to the fisheries ministry, a Sea Shepherd boat repeatedly crossed in front of a Japanese scientific whaling ship in the Antarctic Ocean on Jan. 4 and floated ropes and wires on the water for about five hours, attempting to hinder whale research by a group of Japanese vessels.
When two activists, including one Australian, climbed aboard a Japanese whaling boat in January 2008, both were also taken into custody by Japanese authorities. The Japanese government handed them over to the Australian government two days later.
In February 2010, when a New Zealand activist boarded a Japanese scientific whaling vessel without authorization, the Japan Coast Guard arrested the intruder the next month on suspicion of unlawful entry onto the vessel. For the latest incident, Japanese authorities are discussing the course of action to be taken.
(This article is compiled from The Asahi Shimbun and Reuters)
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