The promised release of three activists who boarded a Japanese whaling ship a few days ago signals a victory for behind-the-scenes diplomacy with Australia.
Guillaume Collet/Sea Shepherd/Reuters
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.