CANBERRA Japanese whalers and protesters in the
icy Southern Ocean charged each other with "terrorism and
piracy" on Wednesday, as two activists remained locked up on a
Japanese ship after boarding the vessel in a protest action.
Whaling has halted while the two men are being held on
board and will not re-start until they have been handed over,
Japanese Fisheries Agency official Takahide Naruko told
Naruko, head of the agency's Far Seas division, declined to
say how many whales had been taken before the suspension.
The whalers said they would only release the two men if the
militant Sea Shepherd Conservation Group promised not to take
any "violent action" against their ship and keep the protest
ship Steve Irwin 10 nautical miles from the whaler Yushin Maru
Steve Irwin captain Paul Watson, who last year threatened
to ram the Japanese flagship and collided with a whale hunter,
rejected the conditions.
"Using hostages to make demands is the hallmark of
terrorism and Sea Shepherd has no interest in negotiating with
terrorist groups," Watson said in a statement. "The hostages
must be released unconditionally."
Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said in a
statement: "Neither captain involved should set conditions on
the return beyond those necessary to ensure the safe return of
the two men."
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said he
did not expect the incident to have any effect on diplomatic
A letter from Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research told
the protesters to "use your zodiac boat to rendezvous with
Yushin Maru No.2 without carrying any dangerous items for
The letter also said the protesters must stop filming,
photographing and protesting against the whalers.
"If you accept the above ... we will provide you detailed
information for the release of the two individuals, rendezvous
times and position," said the letter sent to the Steve Irwin, a
ship named after the late naturalist and television celebrity.
The Institute's letter called the anti-whaling activists
"terrorist," for illegally boarding a ship on the high seas, in
what could be seen as an act of "piracy."
Australian Benjamin Potts and Briton Giles Lane boarded the
whaling vessel late on Tuesday. Sea Shepherd said they were
delivering a letter telling the crew they were "illegally
Sea Shepherd's Watson said the men were tied to a radar
mast and dunked in icy water before being taken below decks.
The two men were initially tied up, the Fisheries Agency's
Naruko said on Wednesday, but were then held in an office on
"When we realized that the two activists' objective had
been to hand over a letter of protest, we decided to return
them to Sea Shepherd," the agency said in a news release.
Japanese officials said the activists boarded the whaler
after making attempts to entangle the propeller of the vessel
using ropes and throwing bottles of acid onto the decks.
Sea Shepherd said the pair only threw stink bombs of rancid
Despite a moratorium on whaling, Japan is allowed an annual
"scientific" hunt, arguing whaling is a cherished cultural
tradition and the hunt is necessary to study whales. Its fleet
has killed 7,000 Antarctic minkes over the past 20 years.
Japan plans to hunt almost 1,000 minke and fin whales for
research over the Antarctic summer, but has abandoned the cull
of 50 humpback whales after international condemnation and a
formal diplomatic protest by 31 nations.
Watson said the two activists were "roughed up" by the
Japanese crew. But the whalers said the men were "treated
humanely," and provided with a warm meal and bath.
CALL FOR RESTRAINT
Smith said the Japanese government wanted the two men
transferred back to the Steve Irwin and were instructing the
whaling vessel to secure the transfer.
But the pair could be handed to an Australian fisheries
ship en route to the area. The ship is attempting to gather
evidence for an international court challenge against Tokyo's
annual "scientific" whaling program.
"From the very first day, I urged all parties in this
matter to exercise restraint. It is quite clearly the case that
restraint hasn't occurred here," said Smith.
The two anti-whaling protesters were detained inside
Australia's declared Antarctic waters and a southern whale
sanctuary declared by Canberra but not recognized by Japan.
Donald Rothwell, an Australian international law expert,
said boarding another vessel on the high seas could be seen by
a court as an act of piracy or worse. "It could also be seen
possibly as an act of terrorism," Rothwell said.
(Additional reporting by Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo; editing
by Michael Perry and Jerry Norton)