The Abbott government has abandoned its pre-election promise to send a Customs vessel to monitor Japan's illegal whaling in the Southern Ocean this summer.
Last May the now Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, committed a future Abbott government to sending at least one Customs vessel south this summer if the Japanese whale poaching ships returned and breached the 2008 Australian Federal Court injunction against the whaling.
In recent weeks Minister Hunt has been indicating that the promise would be kept. But today he reneged. Instead of the Customs vessel Ocean Protector, which is purpose-built for the Southern Ocean, being sent to the Antarctic, Mr. Hunt has announced the Abbott government will engage in overflights in January and/or February. That is, instead of a government vessel, an Australian plane will be overhead for a few hours with no ability to intervene. Sea Shepherd will be present when the whaling fleet arrives for the summer months and the only agency able to intervene against their illegal operations.
"This is a clear breach of promise to the Australian people," Sea Shepherd Australia's Director, Jeff Hansen, said in Perth this afternoon. "The Minister, if he intended to keep his word, has been overruled. It is Australia's whales that will suffer. We have had huge public support for Operation Relentless, which sees our three ships currently heading south from Australia to obstruct this bloody and illegal killing of our whales. Once again, Australia's government is leaving its responsibility to uphold the law to Sea Shepherd Australia. Our message to the Abbott government is that sending planes is a waste of taxpayers’ money. Save your money. We will once again do the job you’re unwilling to do. The reality is, there is no vessel heading south because the Australian Government does not want to be put in a position where it sees a breach of the Australian Federal Court Ruling and has to arrest a Japanese flagged vessel.”
Sea Shepherd Australia's Chair, Dr. Bob Brown, described the government's failure to keep its election promise as "ugly and irresponsible". "Prime Minister Abbott and Greg Hunt have harpooned the Christmas hope that they would keep their word. They are effectively turning a blind eye to the Japanese slaughter because they have been advised that, otherwise, they would have to intervene and enforce the Federal Court injunction against the slaughter."
Back in August 2003, the Australian Customs fisheries patrol boat, Southern Supporter, chased the Uruguayan-flagged Viarsa 1 all the way to South Africa, where the crew was flown to Australia to face charges of illegally fishing for endangered Patagonian tooth fish.
The then Australian fisheries minister Ian Macdonald said, "It's a very expensive operation, but it's very important to Australia for a number of reasons…Our sovereignty is at stake, the Patagonian toothfish is a very rare and valuable species, and the illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean we believe is part of a criminal conspiracy."
Sea Shepherd is asking the question: Why is it sanctioned to defend Australia's sovereignty when it comes to a Uruguayan-flagged vessel killing endangered Patagonian tooth fish, but excused when it is Japanese-flagged vessels, targeting endangered and protected whales in Australia's Antarctic waters?
Sea Shepherd believes the answer is plain and simple: The Australian government does not want to upset Japan. Japan is the one calling the shots in Australian waters.
“The absence of an Australian Customs vessel in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary creates a law enforcement vacuum that will allow the Japanese whale poachers to continue disregarding the 2008 Australian Federal Court Ruling with impunity. My crew and I are now left with no other option but to use our ship to fill that law enforcement void,” said Captain of The Bob Barker, Peter Hammarstedt.
Captain of The Steve Irwin, Siddarth Chakravarty, says, “For Australia to monitor the whaling season from the air is no different than monitoring it from the Government's office in Canberra. Japan has repeatedly shown disregard to all verbal warnings given by the Australian government in the past and having a plane in the Southern Ocean will not put a halt to whaling. The statement from the Environment Minister's office implies that once again Japan can whale in the Southern Ocean, in defiance of the Australian High Court ruling, while the Sea Shepherd ships will be watched from the air as they intervene to physically stop the whalers. There is only one way to stop the Japanese whaling fleet, and it is not to just look at it.”
Read Media Release from Greg Hunt - CLICK HERE TO READ