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Whale wars victory: Japan to release three activist stowaways

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Guillaume Collet/Sea Shepherd/Reuters

(Read caption) Activists from Forest Rescue, named as Geoffrey Owen Tuxworth, Simon Peterffy, and Glen Pendlebury, pose for a photograph aboard the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's vessel, in Freemantle in this photo released on Sunday. The three Australian environmental activists were detained on board a Japanese whaling ship on Sunday after boarding in protest at Japan's annual whale cull in the Antarctic, anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd said.

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An unscheduled meeting between Japan’s whalers and environmental activists on the high seas seems an unlikely backdrop to an outbreak of détente.

But Australia was quietly celebrating a minor victory for diplomacy on Tuesday after Japan agreed to release three anti-whaling activists who illegally boarded one of its whaling ships over the weekend. 

The trio, all Australian citizens, have been detained on the Shonan Maru 2, which is providing security to the fleet, after clambering aboard early Sunday morning to protest Japan’s annual hunts in the Antarctic. The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986 but allows Japan to hunt a limited number of whales for “scientific research.” The fleet left port last month with plans to kill some 900 whales this season.

The incident threatened to cause tension between Australia and Japan, close trade and security partners. Soon after the men were detained it seemed likely that they would be kept aboard the Shonan Maru 2 and taken to Japan, where they faced a trial and possible imprisonment for trespassing.

By late Monday evening, however, Japan had agreed to release the trio, a move welcomed by Australia’s prime minister, Julia Gillard.

Prime Minister Gillard, who came under immediate pressure at home to secure the activists’ release, thanked Japan for its cooperation, but sounded a warning to campaigners thinking of employing similar forms of direct action.

“No one should assume that because an agreement has been reached with the Japanese government in this instance that individuals will not be charged and convicted in the future,” she said in a statement. “The best way to stop whaling once and for all is through our court action.

Australia has lodged a legal challenge to the annual whale hunts with the international court of justice in the Hague but a decision is not expected until 2013 at the earliest.

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