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Australia steps into whaling standoff

(CNN) — Australia has sent a customs ship to retrieve two activists who were seized by a Japanese whaling vessel, the country’s foreign minister said.

The transfer, if successful, would end a tense two-day standoff in Antarctic waters.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Wednesday that the Australian ship, the Oceanic Viking, was within sighting distance of the Japanese whaler.

We would like the transfer to be effected as quickly as possible. But people should understand this will be a difficult operation, Smith told reporters in Perth.

The Japanese Fisheries Agency said Thursday that they will readily hand over the pair.

Australian citizen Benjamin Potts and British citizen Giles Lane, both members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, jumped on board the Yushin Maru No. 2 Tuesday to deliver a letter saying the vessel was violating international law and Australian law by killing whales.

The anti-whaling group accused the crew of the Japanese vessel of kidnapping the men based on a video that showed Potts and Lane tied to the ship’s railing. In the video, Japanese fishermen pace back and forth in front of them. Watch the anti-whaling activists board the Japanese vessel

Smith said the Oceanic Viking will pick up the pair from the Japanese vessel and transfer them back to the ship they sailed in on. . The transfer of men from one ship to another, and then to a third ship in any circumstances is a potentially difficult operation, he said. But this will be a difficult operation occurring as it does in the southern oceans and it will require the cooperation — the full cooperation — of the captains of the ships and the men themselves.

Smith did not answer questions about whether the men would be charged for their actions, stressing instead that the immediate priority was to retrieve them.

I’m not going to give a running commentary on who’s done what to whom and the various allegations and counter allegation, he said.

Capt. Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd, had said earlier that the men were seized by the Japanese crew and assaulted.

They’re being held hostage, they’ve been kidnapped and the Japanese are trying to use them to try and extort an agreement out of us, which is to leave them alone … which to me is a form of terrorism. Watch Watson describe the incident

The Japanese Fisheries Agency has charged that the Sea Shepherd members were the terrorists. At a news conference, the agency released pictures of broken bottles they claim group members threw at the ship. They also released a photo of the two activists relaxing and drinking tea aboard the Yushin Maru.

The image of the two men tied to the ship’s railing is the one that has caused concern.

For some time, for 10, 15 minutes, I understand, they were tied to a GPS mast, Tomohiko Taniguchi of Japan’s Foreign Ministry told CNN. The Japanese crew members feared that two crew members from Sea Shepherd might do something violent.

He said Potts and Lane boarded the vessel without permission. Watson said the two boarded only after attempts to contact the ship by radio were unsuccessful.

Japan has been hunting whales in the Antarctic and apparently plans to kill as many as 1,000 this winter. The killings are allowed under international law because their main purpose is scientific.

We regard them as poachers, Watson said.

Sea Shepherd claims Japan’s Institute for Cetacean Research, which is backing the operations, has said it will release the two activists if Sea Shepherd agrees to stop interfering in its whaling operations. The group says it will not agree to that demand.

Smith said the Japanese government, which formally approached Australia to assist in the transfer, did not lay out any conditions for the transfer.
Australia steps into whaling standoff – found here.

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January 17, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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