The summer ritual of clashes in the Southern Ocean between Japan’s whaling fleet and environmental activists is on. Every year, Japanese research ships head south to hunt about 1000 whales while Australia fights to keep whalers out. But while the government and activists agree whaling must not take place in Australian waters, they have fights on their hands with each other as well as the whalers.

So who are the key players in the whaling dispute and what do they want?

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The SSCS is at the forefront of direct action to attack whaling vessels and protect whales. The group is not afraid to disable whaling vessels, destroy drift nets and board whaling vessels at sea.

Sea Shepherd conservationists have already claimed their first coup in Australian waters this summer. Using an aerial drone, they located Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru off the West Australian coast. Three Sea Shepherd and Forest Rescue activists also boarded Japan’s Shonan Maru II off the coast of Bunbury on Sunday.

The vast costs of aerial drones (US$7600 a time) and SSCS operations are met by donations from celebrities and individuals, and conservationists giving their time for free. Celebrity supporters include Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Sean Penn and Martin Sheen.

SSCS, founded by Greenpeace co-founder Paul Watson in 1977, has a second battle on its hands — this time about money. It is a registered charity with tax exempt status in the USA and is fighting for the same status in Australia, where it does not fit the animal welfare category requiring a charity to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife.

Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce says Australia should deny it charity status — and that Greenpeace’s other “law breaking organisations” should be struck off the charity list. “Criminals should not get tax concessions,” he said yesterday. “If you break the law, then donations to your organisation should not be tax deductible. If you board another nation’s vessel, then that is stepping over the line.”

SSCS Australian director Jeff Hansen said the group will take the Tax Office to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Greenpeace

International environmental NGO Greenpeace, founded in 1971, has campaigned against Japan’s whale hunting for many years — but less aggressively than the Sea Shepherd.

At the beginning of this season’s whale hunt, in early December, Greenpeace wrote to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to demand a review of the whaling programme and to end the taxpayer subsidies to the programme.

The “Tokyo Two” made headlines for Greenpeace and whaling in 2008. The two Greenpeace activists, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, stole whale meat from a Japanese depot, intending to expose what they believed was the embezzlement of meat collected during whale hunts. An investigation of their allegations was followed by their arrests. They were convicted of theft and trespass.

Australian government

There’s the fight between the whalers and the conservationists. Then there’s the fight between the government, the conservationists and the whalers.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard condemned the actions of three SSCS activists who boarded Japan’s Shonan Maru II. The cost of retrieving the trio using the Customs ship Ocean Protector, following 36 hours of diplomatic negotiation, has been estimated by Gillard to run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. The government also argues it will distract Ocean Protector from its role in patrolling Australian waters.

“Activity of the nature undertaken by these three Australians is unacceptable and will ultimately be costly to the Australian taxpayer,” she said. “I feel very strongly about whaling, I know many Australians rightly do. But we are taking the most effective action we can against whaling through the International Court of Justice.”

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon reiterated to the Japanese government that whaling vessels are not welcome in Australian waters, but the Greens and the opposition have called for action. They want an Australian government vessel dedicated to patrolling whaling grounds.

Greens leader Bob Brown said: “The whalers have taken one more step in aggravating this dispute. They are thumbing their noses at Australia again.” And opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said whalers and protestors are not respecting the government.

*Read the full story at The Power Index

Peter Fray

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