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Japanese Whaling Ship Outlawed By Panama

Japanese Whaling Ship Outlawed Following Greenpeace Action in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary

Amsterdam, October 28th 2008: The Oriental Bluebird, re-supply and transport ship of Japan's whaling fleet, has been de-flagged and fined, following a legal ruling by Panamanian authorities. Greenpeace is calling on Japan's government to uphold international law by mothballing the vessel and ending the annual hunt in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

The Oriental Bluebird, used to refuel the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean and to ship whale meat back to Japan, was fined the maximum penalty, after being ruled in violation of a number of domestic and international regulations by Panamanian authorities in a process that
began in April 2008, relating to its permissible use, the safety of human life and the preservation of the marine environment (1).

This follows action by Greenpeace activists against the Oriental Bluebird in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in January 2008 (2) and a concerted campaign by environmental groups in Panama (3). The maximum fine of 10,000 Balboas (US$10,000) was imposed on the owners of the ship, Hiyo Shipping Co. Ltd, in Japan who on October 8th removed its Panamanian registration and flag.

"The Oriental Bluebird has now become an international pariah vessel, and its owners will be urgently looking for a new flag State which will condone its breaches of environmental treaties. It would make a mockery of international law if Japan continued to rely on the services of this vessel," said Sara Holden, Greenpeace International Whales Campaign coordinator. "We are delighted that Panama has found the vessel guilty. Japan must now do the same, not just by mothballing the Oriental Bluebird, but by retiring the entire whaling fleet. The international community has a responsibility to hold Japan to this."

Japan has ratified an international treaty (4) which seeks to end the practice of 're-flagging' vessels in order to circumvent international environmental law. The treaty bars Japan from authorising a ship to participate in the exploitation of marine living resources for at least three years, if that ship has changed its flag after being found in breach of international conservation measures.

The whaling fleet, including the Oriental Bluebird is currently docked in Shimonoseki, from where it is due to depart on its so-called scientific whale hunt in the next few weeks.

In addition to the millions of taxpayer yen spent subsidising the whaling operation; the Japanese government has this year added an extra 800 million yen (US$8 million) for a coastguard ship to act as so-called "protection" for the fleet. Meanwhile, two Greenpeace activists, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, are still under house arrest in Japan and are facing up to ten years in jail, for exposing an embezzlement scandal at the heart of the whaling programme.

"The Japanese government is spending vast amounts of taxpayers' money to defend the indefensible and militarise a hunt of endangered whales inside an internationally designated whale sanctuary, for a programme that is neither scientifically or economically credible, and has now been proven to be using illegal vessels. What more evidence is needed to cancel this programme?" added Holden. "The arrest of Junichi and Toru was a politically motivated attempt to stifle opposition to the whaling programme; the charges against them should be dropped immediately, as should the government's whaling programme."

Greenpeace is an independent, global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment, and to promote peace.

Notes: 1. Laws cited in the Oriental Bluebird ruling of October 8th are: Decree-law Nº7, February 10, 1998 - Panama Maritime Authority creation, and other dispositions. Law Nº 2, January 17, 1980 - Creation of Directorate General of Merchant Marine, and other dispositions. International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL)

2. ASVEPA (Panama Green Association) and FSOCIAM (Environmental and Civil Society Forum, NGOs Coalition) 3. On January 22nd 2008, Greenpeace activists positioned an inflatable boat between the Oriental Bluebird and the whaling factory ship, the Nisshin Maru in order to stop both the refuelling of the Nisshin Maru and the transfer of whale meat to the Oriental Bluebird.

4. FAO Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas (FAO Compliance Agreement) - a binding treaty to which Japan is a party:

Article III(5)(a). No Party shall authorize any fishing vessel previously registered in the territory of another Party that has undermined the effectiveness of international conservation and management measures to be used for fishing on the high seas, unless it is satisfied that

* (i) any period of suspension by another Party of an authorization for such fishing vessel to be used for fishing on the high seas has expired; and

(ii) no authorization for such fishing vessel to be used for fishing on the high seas has been withdrawn by another Party within the last three years.

(b) The provisions of subparagraph (a) above shall also apply in respect of fishing vessels previously registered in the territory of a State which is not a Party to this Agreement, provided that sufficient information is available to the Party concerned on the circumstances in which the authorization to fish was suspended or withdrawn.

A fishing vessel is defined in the FAO Agreement as "any vessel used or intended for use for the purposes of the commercial exploitation of living marine resources, including mother ships and any other vessels directly engaged in such fishing operations." As Panama has ruled the Oriental Bluebird has violated international environmental agreements, Japan should not now use the ship for its whaling programme.

5. In May 2008, Greenpeace Japan exposed a scandal involving the corrupt and powerful whaling industry (which is funded with taxpayers' money). Two of our activists are now awaiting trial for intercepting a box of stolen whale meat, and delivering it to the police. More information at: http://www.greenpeace.org/tokyo-two

ENDS

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