When the Japanese whaling ship Shonan Maru 2 mowed down Sea Shepherd’s Ady Gil they ticked off an already anti-whaling Australia. The incident seems to have pushed Australia to threaten Japan with legal action this week, but Australia has been grinding its teeth and preparing for battle for years after watching Japan flout international whaling rules off its shores. The outcome will turn on Australia’s claim over its nearby waters and which international body has jurisdiction.
This week prime minister Kevin Rudd gave Japan a November deadline to cut its whaling quota to nothing. New Zealand may join the fight, too, it announced Feb. 22. Australia is holding some undoubtedly awkward talks with Japanese diplomats this weekend. Some Australians fear a court case could solidify a lack of Australian control over nearby waters.
Australians says they can head to the International Court of Justice at The Hague or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Germany to get an injunction against whaling. Japan, meanwhile, plays down the fight as “unfortunate” and threatens to appeal to the International Commission on Whaling. They banned whaling in 1986 but let Japan continue under the fig leaf of “research,” even in an area Australia considers a whale sanctuary.
The first signs Australia had reached its limit were just after the Sea Shepherd’s skirmishes when Bob Brown, head of the Green Party, started pushing for international court action. He called Rudd’s government slumbering and wanted to haul the whalers to Australian court and give them a $3 million bill for the sunken batmobile-like craft. “Mr. Okada does not want to be confronted by the ugly reality of Japanese whaling which is opposed by 94% of Australians,” Senator Brown said. “He is squibbing on whaling.” (Meanwhile, Japan is holding a protester who boarded a whaling ship to present them with a bill.)
But Australia has been gearing up for this fight for years. Donald R Rothwell, a professor at Australia National University, who specializes in maritime law, did a report laying out the government’s legal options. According to an Australian 7:30 news report, the four main areas of law Japan could be sued for breaking are pollution standards for the southern Ocean; safety standards; failure to tell Australia and New Zealand rescue authorities where they are in case of emergency; and refueling without an environmental impact assessment.
A couple years ago Australia sent out boats to get photographs for a potential international court case. Legitimate scientists have surveyed the area, demonstrating how real research doesn’t demand slaughter. The whole world knows these research trips are really whaling ventures. More than New Zealand should be joining in; the United States should, too.