Whaling fleet attempts to sneak out of port under cloud of crisis
Tokyo, Japan, 17 2008: Greenpeace activists this morning marked the departure of Japan's whaling fleet from the port of Innoshima with banners reading "Whaling on Trial", another in Japanese outlining the whaling operation's multi-million dollar drain on Japan's taxpayers. The fleet had attempted to leave Japan quietly, following the cancellation of the traditional high-profile departure ceremony in its home port of Shimonoseki. Waved off only by the crew's families and whaling officials, the factory ship Nisshin Maru left Innoshima with no fanfare, with all reports suggesting a direct route to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary .
It's been a week of crisis and confusion for the beleaguered whaling industry, fuelled by contradictory statements; Japanese media reported claims from sources within the whaling industry that it was cutting its self-appointed quota of whale kills by 20% . This was later contradicted by Japan Fisheries Agency officials  who claimed the target of 935 minke whales and 50 endangered fin whales would be maintained.
It was also revealed that for the first time, the fleet is sailing without an all-Japanese crew, with regular crew members unwilling to sail following this year's exposure of a whale meat embezzlement scandal  by a Greenpeace undercover investigation. Also this week, it was announced that 'Yushin,' the flagship whale meat shop and restaurant in Asakusa, Tokyo, will close down in 2010 due to ongoing financial problems . The whaling fleet's refueling and cargo vessel, Oriental Bluebird was recently deflagged following a ruling by Panamian Authorities, which is expected to greatly impact the whaling fleet's capacity to transport whale meat back to Japan.
"Constant pressure on Japan's whaling industry by both Greenpeace and the international community has reduced the fleet to sneaking out of port in a fog of crisis and scandal, desperate to avoid attention", said Sara Holden, Greenpeace International Whales Coordinator. "With factions within the industry unable to agree on the commercial rationale behind killing whales for so-called "research" purposes, it's clear that that the entire whaling programme is a shambles, driven by bad business and worse science."
Greenpeace will not be sending a ship to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary this year, instead focusing on working to end whaling from within Japan, where 71% of the public do not support Japan's taxpayer-subsidised whaling programme . Two Greenpeace activists, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, known as the Tokyo Two, have been denied their liberty for 145 days, since a Greenpeace investigation exposed the embezzlement of whale meat from the factory ship Nisshin Maru. Japanese authorities have mounted a politically motivated prosecution, putting the Junichi and Toru on trial early next year; they face up to 10 years in jail for intercepting whale meat stolen by crew from the whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru .
"The obvious disarray within the whaling industry, and the extreme overreaction by the authorities towards the Junichi and Toru shows that Greenpeace's work in Japan is coming to fruition, by revealing the whaling programme as an expensive and embarrassing sham", said Jun Hoshikawa, Executive Director of Greenpeace Japan. "It's the beginning of the end for Japan's whaling programme. The whale meat market in Japan has collapsed; it's time for Japanese taxpayers to demand the government stop subsidising this bankrupt programme, and to order the fleet home."
1) According to phone conversations with Mr Okazaki, chief priest at the Injyoji shrine in Shimonoseki, the prayer ceremony prior to the whaling fleet's departure has been held at his shrine for the last five years, with fleet operator Kyodo Senpaku acting as sponsor. However, Mr Okazaki said that Kyodo Senpaku had decided against sponsoring this year's ceremony.
Mr Takahashi at the Kameyama Hachimangu shrine in Shimonoseki said in a phone conversation that his shrine would host a prayer ceremony on December 1st, sponsored by a whaling support organization (not Kyodo Senpaku) - after the whaling fleet has departed.
In another phone conversation, a Mr Shimono from the Port Authority of Shimonoseki said that the Fisheries Agency of Japan application to use the port from the beginning of November had been canceled by the end of September, and that no further re-application had been received.
2) A report in Japanese newspaper Asahi Shinbun cites sluggish demand for whale meat, pressure from protests at sea and the continued opposition from Europe and Australia as reasons for the reduction in the minke whale quota from 945 minke whales to 750. The quota of 50 endangered fin whales remains unchanged. http://www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asahi/TKY200811130163.html
3) International Herald Tribune, November 13th 2008: http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/11/13/asia/AS-Japan-Whaling.php
4) Greenpeace investigation: Japan's stolen whale meat scandal, May 15 2008 - dossier available from: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/whale-meat-scandal-dossier
5) Nikkei, November 11th 2008: The Institute of Cetacean Research and whaling fleet operators Kyodo Sempaku announced a rationalization plan, including the cancellation of open-boat departure ceremonies and the closing of of "Yushin", its whale meat shop in Asakusa, Tokyo by 2010.
6) Nippon Research Center (member of Gallup International Association) opinion poll on whaling in Japan, 2008: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/japanese-opinion-whaling-2008
7) Junichi and Toru were arrested on June 20th, and spent 26 days in custody before being charged. Bail conditions require that they request permission to be away from home for more than three days. http://www.greenpeace.org/tokyo-two
Amnesty International has denounced the arrest as being politically motivated, and in a periodic evaluation completed last month, the United Nations Human Rights Committee severely reprimanded the Japanese government for the "unreasonable restrictions placed on freedom of expression" in Japan. It also condemned the abuse of trespass laws by Japanese police to harass activists who are critical of government policy. UN Human Rights Committee, Ninety-fourth session, Geneva, 13-31 October 2008, concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee on Japan, UN Doc. CCPR/C/JPN/CO/5, para. 26, available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/docs/co/CCPR-C-JPN-CO.5.doc