Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Activists throw acid at Japanese whalers

Taipei Times
Tuesday, Mar 04, 2008

Militant environmentalists hurled stinging acid for more than an hour onto a Japanese whaling ship off Antarctica yesterday, hurting three crew members, Japanese government officials said.

Japan strongly condemned the latest attack by the Sea Shepherd group, which has vowed to stop the whaling expedition by force if necessary.

Members of Sea Shepherd threw more than 100 brown envelopes containing a white powder and bottles of butyric acid from their own vessel onto the Japanese whaler Nisshin Maru, government officials said.

Butyric acid is liquid or a white powder that stings the eyes.

"The butyric acid powder hit two crew members and two Japanese coast guard officers, who complained of pain," Vice Foreign Minister Itsunori Onodera said.

Three of the four were treated at sea by washing out their eyes, the Fisheries Agency said.
Officials said the attack continued for about an hour.

"Japan strongly condemns the act," said Nobutaka Machimura, government spokesman and chief cabinet secretary. "That was an inexcusable act to inflict unjustifiable damage to Japan's ship and to harm the safety of the crew who are operating legally in the public sea."

He said Tokyo would file protests with Australia, where the Sea Shepherd vessel last called into port, and the Netherlands, where the boat is registered.

Activists from the US-based Sea Shepherd had also hurled bottles onto the Japanese whaler in January. Two activists, a Briton and an Australian, hopped onto the vessel, setting off a two-day standoff.

Onodera revealed the latest incident as he addressed a seminar with officials from 11 developing states that have recently joined or plan to join the deadlocked International Whaling Commission.

Japan is holding the meeting to win support for its position that the international body should allow "sustainable whaling."

In front of the Tokyo conference building, Greenpeace environmental activists held a board designed to look like a Japanese yen note with the face of Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, charging that the meeting wasted tax money.

"The government invited delegations from 12 countries, but most of them have nothing to do with whaling," Junichi Sato of Greenpeace Japan said.

Western nations, led by Australia, are strongly opposed to Japan's whaling.

The countries taking part in the seminar are Angola, Cambodia, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ghana, Laos, Malawi, Palau, Tanzania and Vanuatu, the foreign ministry said.

Micronesia was invited but did not attend, officials said.

Japan, which kills up to 1,000 whales a year, says whaling is part of its culture and accuses anti-whaling countries of insensitivity.

"We will discuss more here than just the supply of whale meat," said Joji Morishita, Japan's chief whaling negotiator.

"Whaling is a symbolic matter when you discuss the larger issue" of each nation seeking food security, he said.

Japan harpoons whales using a loophole in a 1986 global moratorium on whaling that allows "lethal research" on the giant mammals, although the meat ends up on Japanese dinner plates.

The number of members of the International Whaling Commission has mushroomed to 78, many with little or no history of whaling.

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