As expected (Link) the pelagic JARPA II whaling fleet departed on Friday from ports in Hiroshima and Yamaguchi Prefectures. It was a close run thing for the whalers: Friday was the last day of regular business prior to the New Year holidays. Departing after New Years would have curtailed the hunt in the southern oceans.
The Yomiuri Shimbun's coverage of the departure focused on the fears of the families of the whalers. The sailors aboard the whaling vessels face meeting, in the dark, cold waters of the Antarctic, the stink-bombing tossing pirates of the Sea Shepherd Society. (Link - J)
It was left to the reporters of the less slavishly pro-Liberal Democratic Party and pro-leader (the catcher boats are homeported in Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's district) Sankei Shimbun and Asahi Shimbun to point out that, just like last year, all the ships have Japan Coast Guard officers on board. (Link - J and Link - J) These JCG (the one branch of Japan's international defense forces that actually shoots folks) officers are purportedly armed. (Link)
Furthermore, the fleet this year is supplemented by the dispatch of an additional vessel with crew and equipment meant to thwart attempts to interfere with whaling activities.
The whaling fleet is also ostensibly protected by a U.S. court injunction. Issued against Sea Shepherd, the injuction prohibits the group from approaching within 500 yards of any of the whaling ships.
The oddity: the injunction was issued by the granola-crunching Ninth Circuit, which holds its hearings in the famously pro-whaling bastions of Seattle, Portand, San Francisco and Pasadena.
That the fleet is sailing out at all this year is a result of bad decisions by a number of political players.
First is former Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko and the leaders of the Democratic Party of Japan. In a rollback of pressure for reform of the bureaucracy, they allowed bureaucrats to compile the Third Supplementary Budget for Disaster Relief (Link) with zero political oversight. Bureaucrats from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) used the opportunity to create a bailout fund for the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), the non-profit nominally in charge of the pelagic research hunt. The Institute was deeply in debt due to declining income from whale meat sales and the costs of Sea Shepherd interference in JARPA II.
Letting the bureaucrats run amok in compiling the supplementary budget did not earn Noda and the DPJ an iota of gratitude, of course. Bureaucrats continued their happy non-cooperation with (or, in their undermining of Tanaka Makiko's attempt to clamp down on abuses in the conversion of two-year schools into four-year colleges, their de facto mutiny against) the DPJ-led government until said government's Hatoyama/Ozawa/Noda-inflicted demise of two weeks ago.
Second are bureaucrats from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT). Under pressure from MAFF bureaucrats and politicians wishing to pander to pro-whaling voters, MLIT gave a stamp of approval to an otherwise incomprehensible half-retrofit of the whaling mothership, the Nisshin Maru.
The ship is in bad shape, having suffered two major fires in the past few years, including one in Antarctic waters in 2007 that killed one of the crew. It needs a complete retrofit to be fully seaworthy.
The time required for a full retrofit of the vessel, however, would have forced the cancellation of the 2012-13 hunt. Since missing even a single year would undermine the international legitimacy of the hunt (this is the way that MAFF bureaucrats think) the screws were put on MLIT to allow the ICR to cut corners on the Nisshin Maru's safety upgrade.
Third, and most egregiously, is the Australian government. Canberra took an intrasigent stance in the 2010-2011 negotiations for an International Whaling Commission-controlled compromise. The plan was to balance a cutback in JARPA II in return for an expansion of Japan's whaling activities in the Northwest Pacific, probably restricting whaling to Japan's economic exclusion zone (EEZ). Even the most limited version of the compromise was projected to reduce the number of animals killed by 5,000 over a 10 year period.
The actual number of animals saved by any plan would probably have been larger. A major reduction in the number of kills under the research whaling banner would have sunk JARPA II as an enterprise, resulting in a de facto if not de jure ban on the southern hunt, if not all pelagic whaling. A resumption of a commercial hunt for Minke whales in the waters around Japan would have also ended the never-halted-or-reduced hunt for Baird's Beaked whale, Pilot whale and Risso's Dolphin -- three large-bodied species Japan's small-scale coastal whalers kill precisely because they are not on the IWC's protected list.
With a pro-pelagic whaling Liberal Democratic Party back in power there will be no compromises of any kind offered on JARPA II, JARPN II or anything else having to do with the plunging an explosive charge inside an animal, detonating it, and having the animal bleed to death.
Nice work, Mr. Garrett.
The whalers and their nemeses in Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace (which really should know better) burn diesel fuel and threaten each other's safety in some of the world's already most dangerous seas, sucking money out of wallets all over the globe (Do they send each other cards at Christmas time, each thanking the other for keeping the gravy train rolling one more year?).
Australian and Japanese governments find themselves at loggerheads over a valence issue at the cost of greater cooperation in substantive environmental, security and economic actions.
The Japanese people (most of whom, when shown the alternatives, want nothing to do with pelagic whaling) find themselves loathed around the world.
Hundreds of our fellow Earth inhabitants are needlessly killed in inhumane ways.
How indeed can we dance/When our Earth is turning?