Whaling, lies and cover-ups must stop

Feature story - April 14, 2009
Shrouded in the early morning gloom, the Japanese whaling fleet factory ship, Nisshin Maru, crept back into port without the usual fanfare. In fact, the only greeting party was comprised of our activists.

The Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru docks in Shimonoseki, Japan, having just returned from its last so-called "scientific"whaling expedition to the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary.

The Nisshin Maru unloads whalemeat here - the by-product of their "science", which is chopped and boxed on board the factory ship ready for market as soon as they come into port. 

We documented, as best we could from a distance, the offloading of the ship's cargo to monitor for further signs of the whale meat embezzlement we uncovered last year.  An official request to permit us to officially document what precisely was unloaded from the ship was turned down by the Fisheries Agency of Japan.

That's not surpising, given the whalers' track record of censoring information that should be public, and their failure to respect the democratic rights and civil liberties of their critics.

The contents and destination of these boxes remain a mystery.

Exposed

Last year, boxes of embezzled whale meat, some falsely labelled "cardboard", were offloaded and couriered to the homes of the ship's crew. Whistleblowers told us that this was standard practice, but the Fisheries Agency of Japan (FAJ) publically denied it. It was only later that the three institutions which run the whaling programme managed to get their stories straight and claimed that the boxes of prime whale meat were approved as "souvenirs".

It is now one year since our activists Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki first exposed the embezzlement of whale meat from the fleet. They are still awaiting trial and facing up to ten years in prison, yet nothing has been done to address the scandal and the real criminals behind the embezzlement.

The FAJ promised greater transparency, but in January it again covered up the truth by heavily censoring documents containing whale meat sales data, released to us following a Freedom of Information request. We got, essentially, nothing but blacked-out pieces of paper.

The Japanese public paid 1.2 billion yen (12 million US dollars/ 9 million euros) this year subsidising whaling in the Southern Ocean.  If whalemeat "souvenirs" are indeed a legitimate practice, the public has the right to know how much of their money has been spent buying gifts for the crew.

Government subsidies of an unwanted, unneeded, and increasingly secretive whaling programme is a slap in the face for Japanese taxpayers at a time when Japan is suffering the worst recession for a generation.

The few bureaucrats in the Japanese government who benefit from whaling are trying to keep the industry alive through actions which are an insult to good business practice, which harm Japan's reputation abroad, and which threaten civil liberties domestically -- all to continue a programme which a majority of Japanese citizens don't support.

Disgraced

When the same ship left last year to begin the hunt they did so without their usual farewell party. The quiet departure and subdued arrival is a fitting reflection of the fact that the government has finally come to understand that whaling is nothing to be proud of.

 "With warehouses full to overflowing with whale meat from previous years hunts, which can't even be given away, this years catch of 680 whales is still 680 too many," said Junichi Sato, one of the Tokyo Two now facing trial. "This must be the last of these so-called "scientific" whaling expeditions."

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