Activists Board Japanese Whaling Boat

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Members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have jumped aboard a Japanese whaling boat. The BBC's Jonah Fisher reports from a Greenpeace ship somewhere in the Southern Ocean.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

The standoff between anti-whaling activists and a Japanese whaling fleet is heating up on the Antarctic waters. Two anti-whaling activists jumped aboard a Japanese whaler called the Yushin Maru II. So now the Japanese crew has agreed to halt its whaling trip temporarily while they wait for the Australian government to pick up the activists.

The two protesters are members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an aggressive environmental group which in the past has rammed and attempted to sink boats they believe to be violating international law. The Sea Shepherd says the two men from their group were assaulted and tied to the deck of the ship. The Japanese deny those allegations.

The standoff has also affected another ship, a Greenpeace boat, the Esperanza, which has been following the whaling fleet's mother ship, the Nisshin Maru. The BBC's Jonah Fisher is onboard the Esperanza. He's been there since December, and he joins us now to give his latest on the standoff.

Thanks for joining us, Jonah. And what is the latest update?

Mr. JONAH FISHER (Reporter, BBC): Well, it appears as if - like this standoff is probably coming to an end. The Australian government has said that they are going to intervene to get the two men from Sea Shepherd off the Japanese whaling ship and to get them transferred onto the Steve Irwin - that's the name of the Sea Shepherd boat which they were originally on.

It has seemed that there would be no resolution, as all attempts by the Japanese whalers to contact the Steve Irwin had been knocked back. The Steve Irwin and the Sea Shepherd Conservation authority have made it clear they weren't interested in striking any deal with the Japanese, and it seems only the Australian is coming in as a third party has enabled the two men to perhaps be released in 24 hours.

PESCA: Let us backtrack. I will ask you a question I'm sure with no easy answer, but is it legal for the Japanese to be whaling?

Mr. FISHER: Hello?

PESCA: Yes, yes. My question was, tell me about the legality. Is it legal for the Japanese to be whaling?

Mr. FISHER: Well, it depends on who you speak to, really. If you look at international whaling ramifications - regulations, then, yes. They are allowed to whale, because they whale under scientific research experiments. Commercial whaling isn't allowed, but every year pretty much since this ban's been in place, Japan has sent its fleet down to the Southern Ocean to conduct whaling. That's why they're going to be killing about a thousand whales this season as part of that scientific research program. They think - and there are many of them who say that it's a bit of a sham that, in fact, that the whaling is more about providing whale meat for people to eat back in Japan, and, in fact, the research they do doesn't really count for very much.

PESCA: Yes, "science," in quotes. On the Greenpeace ship, what was the reaction to when these activists from the Sea Shepherd took the step of boarding the Japanese whaling ship? How did the Greenpeace people react to that?

Mr. FISHER: I think they were surprised, and also quite impressed, really. The Greenpeace have been following a ship of its own up here and keeping a respectful distance, really - several miles back from the Yushin Maru.

So when we saw her onboard this ship the footage of the Sea Shepherd protesters leaping onboard the Japanese ship, I think people in here were impressed. It's not a tactic which Greenpeace themselves do, but, certainly, the Sea Shepherd has succeeded in taking whaling into the news, getting people talking about the Japanese whaling fleet. And that's really what or both of these organizations are trying to do, to make people aware of what Japan is doing here at the very sort of end of the world.

PESCA: What's been the public reaction to this, either from your public who you are reporting to, or do you have any idea how the Japanese public is reacting to this?

Mr. FISHER: Well, it's very hard to say from here.

PESCA: Yes.

Mr. FISHER: I'm very much as far away from land as you can get it. But certainly, there's been a fairly large reaction in United Kingdom, where I primarily report. The people have been very interested and very sort of gripped, almost, by the story of all these ships congregating in such a remote part of the world. I think, in Japan, it's harder to say, really. The whaling story itself doesn't get a lot of play in the Japanese press, generally. But certainly, there have been reports that this incident and this confrontation, if you like, with Sea Shepherd has pushed it to the front of people's minds a bit more in Japan than it normally is.

PESCA: And is there any chance the Japanese, because they were boarded or because of the attention from these two ships, will be calling off their trip entirely, or do they view it as more of a nuisance?

Mr. FISHER: At the moment, they're talking about it being an interruption. Once the fleet gets back together, once the mother ship, which Greenpeace is chasing, is reunited with her fleet, one would imagine that they will attempt to whale again.

Certainly, the whaling season continues until April. And crucially, the Japanese fleet have the luxury that they have a large ship which comes down to Antarctic waters to refuel them. So they can stay pretty much as long as they like until April. The campaign ships have a disadvantage, so they have to return to land. They can't afford to actually refueled at sea. So they will have to return either to Australia or to South Africa in order to get more fuel. And obviously, that will take a lot of time and allow the Japanese whaling fleet to carry out their activities on their own.

PESCA: Thanks for your time, Jonah.

Mr. FISHER: Thank you.

PESCA: Jonah Fisher is a journalist for the BBC onboard the Greenpeace ship in the Southern Ocean. You can follow his trip by reading his blog, Jonah and The Whale Chasers. It's on the BBC Web site. I say we'll link to it.

Coming up, we're going to, again, switch gears. We'll be talking to a group of children in Alaska who have become activists. They are protesting a planned mine there. Are they parroting adults? Are they truly activists, incensed by this mine?

This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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