Japan to release anti-whaling activists
Canberra - Japan has agreed to release without charge three Australian activists who boarded a Japanese vessel off southwest Australia as part of a campaign to stop whale hunting in Antarctic waters, Australia's attorney-general said on Tuesday.
The three men boarded the security ship Shonan Maru No 2 on Sunday as it tailed the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's flagship the Steve Irwin.
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon the two governments were negotiating details for safely offloading the three men: Geoffrey Owen Tuxworth, 47, Simon Peterffy, 44, and Glen Pendlebury, 27. They are all from Western Australia state.
"We are pleased that the Japanese government has made a decision that these three men won't be charged and will be released," Roxon told Nine Network television on Tuesday.
"But we can't be confident that that will happen next time if people take action - take the law into their own hands," she added.
Australian officials had spoken to the men and all were well, she said. Retrieving them posed challenges.
"Obviously the logistics are difficult when you are in open seas," Roxon said.
The three activists, who are members of an environmental group, said they were helping Sea Shepherd "end illegal whale poaching".
The whale hunts, which Japan says are for scientific purposes, are allowed by the International Whaling Commission as an exception to the 1986 ban on whaling. But opponents say they are a cover for commercial whaling because whale meat not used for study is sold for consumption in Japan.
Pete Bethune, a Sea Shepherd activist, boarded the same Japanese ship in 2010. Bethune, a New Zealander, spent five months in a Japanese jail before being convicted of an array of offenses and deported.
Sea Shepherd said the three activists reached the Japanese vessel - a former harpoon boat that now performs a security role for the whaling fleet - in two small boats and climbed over its rails.
They came with the message, "Return us to shore in Australia and then remove yourself from our waters", Sea Shepherd said.
The three activists are members of the environmental group Forest Rescue.
The Shonan Maru No 2, which collided with the Sea Shepherd speed boat the Ady Gil in 2010, tailed the Steve Irwin as it escorted the anti-whaling vessel Brigitte Bardot to the Australian port of Fremantle last week for repairs. The Brigitte Bardot had been damaged by a rogue wave.
Japanese surveillance of Sea Shepherd vessels helps the fleet avoid the protesters as the whalers go about their annual hunt.
Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson, captain of the Steve Irwin, said the three activists had hoped to divert the Shonan Maru No 2 off the Steve Irwin's tail as it searched for the whalers.