From: Reuters
Published December 28, 2008 09:50 AM

Japan whalers out of Australia-claimed area

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has said it achieved its aim of forcing Japan's whaling fleet out of Antarctic waters claimed by Australia.

In a statement on its website (www.seashepherd.org), the U.S.-based group said its ship, the Steve Irwin, had forced the fleet into waters off the Ross Dependency, which is a New Zealand possession.

Australia has declared an 'economic exclusion zone', known by the letters "EEZ," in waters off the coast of its Antarctic territories, and an Australian court order bans whaling there.

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Sea Shepherd has said it is enforcing that order by pursuing Japan's whaling fleet, which is in the area for an annual hunt to kill around 900 whales.

However, Japan does not recognize the zone and says its whaling fleet is in international waters.

In the statement, dated Saturday, Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson promised his organization would continue its pursuit of the Japanese fleet.

"The good news is that they are no longer whaling in Australian waters and they only managed to hunt in the waters of the Australian Antarctic Territory for about a week before being forced to flee the Australian EEZ," the statement said.

"They are now in the waters of the Ross dependency and the Steve Irwin is in pursuit."

Watson said this was "bad news" for whales in waters south of New Zealand.

Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research, which runs the hunt, has accused Sea Shepherd of "eco-terrorism" and of ramming its vessel the Kaiko Maru during a protest action last Friday. Sea Shepherd has blamed the Japanese for the collision.

In a video of the incident released on its website (www.icrwhale.org), the organization showed the crew of the Japanese ship warning Sea Shepherd in English that its protesters would be treated as "illegal intruders under Japanese law" if they tried to board.

During the last whaling season, two Sea Shepherd activists were briefly held on a Japanese vessel they boarded during a protest action.

Despite an international moratorium on whaling since 1986, Japan justifies the hunt on the grounds that its whaling is for "scientific" purposes.

Much of the meat ends up on supermarket shelves.

(Editing by Sami Aboudi)

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