Australia Says Anti-Whaling Ship Allowed to Dock

SYDNEY ~ Militant environmentalists harassing Japan’s whaling fleet in the Antarctic will be allowed to refuel their ship in Australia despite a plea from Tokyo, the government said on Thursday.

Japan has asked Australia and other countries to ban the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessel the Steve Irwin from docking, accusing the activists of “sabotage.”

Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that while no request to dock had yet been received from the Steve Irwin, which is on its way to the southern Australian city of Hobart, there was no reason to keep the ship out.

“Should such a request be received, then the Steve Irwin will be permitted to dock at an Australian port. There is insufficient reason to prevent the Steve Irwin from doing that,” she told reporters.

Paul Watson, captain of the Steve Irwin, has said the ship expects to refuel in Hobart on January 15 after more than two weeks pursuing the Japanese whalers through the Southern Ocean.

This is the fifth year Sea Shepherd activists have trailed the whalers and attempted to impede their hunt, prompting the Japanese government-backed Institute of Cetacean Research to accuse them of “eco-terrorism.”

The whaling group said on Wednesday that the Sea Shepherd vessel had used a distress signal sent in the search for a missing Japanese crewman to track down the fleet and had then attempted to disrupt rescue efforts.

But Watson denied the accusations and said they were only trying to help.

Australia opposes Japanese whaling, but Gillard stressed that protests at sea should not put lives in danger.

“What we have said to the Steve Irwin is … that when the Steve Irwin is in the Southern Ocean that is obviously a dangerous stretch of water, it’s very far removed from land,” said Gillard.

“We want people when they are on that stretch of water to conduct themselves in a way which ensures that they stay safe and others are safe.”

An international moratorium on commercial whaling was imposed in 1986 but Japan kills hundreds of them each year in the name of research. It makes no secret of the fact that the meat ends up on dinner tables and says whaling is a cultural tradition.

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