Australia to monitor Japan's whaling

Last updated 18:40 22/12/2013
Nisshin Maru whaling
Sea Shepherd

MISSED TARGETS: A whale is loaded to the Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru in Mackenzie Bay, Antarctica, February 15.

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Australia will send an aircraft to Antarctica to monitor Japan's whale hunt, Environment Minister Greg Hunt says.

Making the announcement in Melbourne on Sunday, Mr Hunt said it  was important to monitor the whaling season, given the risk of  confrontations between protesters and whalers.

''It sends a clear message that the Australian government expects  all parties to abide by the laws of the seas,'' he said in a statement.

Mr Hunt said the choice of a plane instead of a ship was made  for operational reasons as the most effective means of monitoring a  wide area of the Southern Ocean.

He said flights would be planned ahead of time and staffed by customs and border protection officers.

In the lead-up to the September election Mr Hunt pledged that a  Customs vessel would monitor the whale hunt.

Critics say the vessel he intended to use this season is now  preoccupied with patrolling waters off Christmas Island for asylum  seeker boats.

Japan's whaling fleet is expected to arrive in its planned hunting zone in the Southern Ocean before the end of the year.

Anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd has already vowed to intercept the fleet before a single whale is slaughtered.

Mr Hunt said the chosen aircraft, an A319, will fly over the whaling area for the entire season, from January to March 2014.

''While we respect the right to peaceful protest, Australia will not condone any dangerous, reckless or unlawful behaviour,'' he  said.

Australia took legal action in the International Court of Justice after decades of diplomatic efforts failed to curb Japan's whaling programme.

Mr Hunt said he hoped a ruling on the case would be announced  soon

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