Benefit of doubt to Japan over whaling incursion

23:15, Feb 10 2014
The Japanese whaling fleet security ship, Shonan Maru No.2, pictured recently in the Southern Ocean.
The Japanese whaling fleet security ship, Shonan Maru 2, pictured in the Southern Ocean.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says he is "reluctant to believe" Japan's Government disregarded New Zealand's request for a whaling boat to stay out of its exclusive economic zone.

The Japanese ambassador was called in to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday to explain the actions of a Japanese whaling boat which entered New Zealand's economic waters.

The incursion happened on Thursday despite a warning from New Zealand not to enter the EEZ.

Japan's deputy chief of mission was first called in on Friday to the ministry to hear of New Zealand's disappointment.

McCully yesterday slammed the incursion as "deeply disrespectful", saying it had "caused offence".

He was still waiting on an official response from the Japanese Government, but said today it was more likely the Japanese fisheries agency was to blame for the incursion.

"I've tried to explain we are trying to work out what is happening inside a sometimes cumbersome system," McCully said.

"Sometimes you have the fisheries agency, which has always been a significant player in government administration, make their own foreign policy decision.

"We've put a lot of work into maturing a good, respectful relationship with the [Japanese] foreign ministry and minister, and I'm reluctant to believe that they would have ventured close to the decision that was made."

He confirmed the Japanese foreign ministry had alerted the New Zealand embassy in Tokyo that the fishing vessel was getting close to New Zealand's EEZ.

McCully said time zone differences could mean a response from the Japanese Government would take a while to come through.

Over the weekend, McCully was advised the Japanese vessel Shonan Maru 2 followed Sea Shepherd protest ships deep into New Zealand's exclusion zone.

On his instruction, New Zealand embassy officials in Tokyo had made it clear to Japan that any incursion into New Zealand's EEZ would be unwelcome.

Japan's whaling fleet ignored that, chasing the Sea Shepherd's Steve Irwin for some distance inside the zone. The ship stayed clear of New Zealand territorial waters.

"While the Japanese whalers' decision to ignore New Zealand's strong wishes in this respect has no legal implications, clearly it was deeply disrespectful," McCully said yesterday.

The seas within the New Zealand EEZ – between 12 and 200 nautical miles – were not New Zealand territorial waters, so the Government had no legal means of excluding vessels from entering.

 McCully has said he had been briefed on a range of options, if a breach occurred again, although he would not say what those were.