SYDNEY, Dec 18 – Australia is still considering legal action against Japan over its annual whale hunt in Antarctic waters, Environment Minister Peter Garrett said Thursday.,
Garrett’s comments came as Australia’s foreign and defence ministers were due to hold talks with their counterparts in Japan Thursday on boosting security cooperation between the Pacific allies.
Relations were strained last year when an Australian customs vessel shadowed Japan’s whalers in the Southern Ocean, taking videos and documenting their activities for a possible international court challenge.
Canberra has said it will not repeat the move as the Japanese fleet heads for the whaling grounds this season, but Garrett said the government remained committed to pressing Tokyo to end the hunt.
"All the things that we said we would do a little over 12 months ago we’ve done," he told Sky News, referring to promises made before Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his centre-left Labour Party won elections last year.
"We sent the Oceanic Viking over the last season to collect material for potential legal use. That option remains on the table."
Australia was also "continuing to push very, very hard in the diplomatic environment" for an end to Japan’s annual hunt, he said.
An international moratorium on commercial whaling was imposed in 1986, but Japan kills hundreds of whales a year in the name of research, with the meat nonetheless ending up on dinner tables.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said this week he would raise the issue with his Japanese counterpart Hirofumi Nakasone during Thursday’s talks.
"I will raise it formally with Foreign Minister Nakasone, make the point that we are disappointed that the Japanese whaling fleet has left for the Great Southern Ocean," Smith said.
The talks will be the second so-called "two-plus-two" meeting since the nations signed a security pact last year, officially pacifist Japan’s first such deal other than its military alliance with the United States.
The foreign and defence ministers "will discuss the international situation and specific ways to enhance security cooperation between Japan and Australia," a Japanese foreign ministry statement said.