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Friday, 12 March 2010

Whaling Business Jolted by Enemy Within

AFTER years of fruitless efforts to penetrate the facade of Japan's scientific whaling, Greenpeace in January 2008 stumbled across a rare opportunity: a whistleblower.

An investigation by Greenpeace Japan's Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, based on the whistleblower's tip-offs, produced sensational allegations of corruption, waste and official misbehaviour in the whaling program.

Japanese YenJapanese taxpayers keep scientific whaling afloat: last year, (Japanese Yen) ¥5.1 billion (about USD $60 million) of the Institute of Cetacean Research's ¥13.9 trillion operating expenses were met by interest-free public loans, ¥538m came as direct subsidy and another ¥404m as public research fees.

The rest came from selling the meat of the whales killed by the fleet, the proceeds of a publicly funded activity. The public was being cheated, Greenpeace argued.

Sato and Suzuki, however, ended up in the dock.

Whaling turncoats are rare in Japan, where most people still support hunting, in principle, though a mounting stockpile attests to dwindling appetites for whale meat.

Yet within six months in 2008, Sato had found three whistleblowers.

Whistleblower 1, whose identity is hidden by Greenpeace, telephoned in January 2008. Campaign director Sato was out of the office; other staff didn't know what to do with him, so he hung up.

A week later, the former crewman from the whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru called back. His story startled even Sato, who had been burrowing into the industry since 2001.

"Although I am supposed to be well informed, much of what he said was completely new, such as the fleet's dumping of whale meat and embezzlement by the crews," he told The Weekend Australian. "It's the first time we have been approached by an informant from the industry."

The initial allegations drew out a second whistleblower, another whaling crewman retired after 40 years. A third informant, involved in Japanese whaling diplomacy, remains under wraps.

Whistleblower 2 gave evidence this week in Aomori, a chilly northern maritime city, where Sato and Suzuki are on trial and facing prison terms for theft and trespass.

While W2 was questioned in Aomori courthouse, his identification suppressed by a court order, the fleet began steaming home from the Southern Ocean.

W2 made the Antarctic voyage about 30 times, but never encountered anything like this northern summer's fierce disruptions as the whalers fought off repeated sabotage attempts by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessels.

Greenpeace International began the Southern Ocean whaling confrontations in 1998, Sea Shepherd joining the fray in 2002. Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson boasts of nine ships sunk in other campaigns.

Given Greenpeace's non-violence limits, concern soon grew about association with Watson's hazardous actions. The Japanese affiliates particularly worried that antagonistic domestic coverage of the Antarctic clashes alienated potential sympathisers.

The whistleblowers clinched the argument. Greenpeace withdrew from the 2008 Antarctic summer mission and the Japanese scandal became the focus of its international campaign.

"This case was seen as a real opportunity to stop whaling from within, because ultimately the only people who are going to decide to end whaling are the Japanese themselves," says Greenpeace International spokesman Greg McNevin. "They are very resistant to the idea of outsiders, foreigners, telling them what to do.

"But what we have here is an investigation by Greenpeace Japan, by Japanese people, that exposes crimes of embezzlement of taxpayers' money by the industry and these are things that affect Japanese taxpayers directly."

Suzuki and Sato are charged with having stolen a 23.5kg carton of whale meat, property of a Nisshin Maru seaman, from an Aomori transport depot in April 2008.

Their defence is public interest. The carton was evidence for W1's claim that at the end of every season, whaling crews illegally diverted several tonnes of prime meat, mostly to the black market.

W2 testified this week that meat was also distributed to pro-whaling MPs, fisheries officials and Institute of Cetacean Research personnel aboard the fleet.

Rather than scientifically sampling whales in the Southern Ocean, the whistleblowers claimed, Japanese whalers targeted commercially valuable animals and maximised value by dumping overboard tonnes of lesser-grade meat.

These things happened, Greenpeace alleged, by the connivance of fleet operator Kyodo Senpaku, ICR, which runs the scientific program, and the Japan Fisheries Agency.

Since the allegations, the industry has conceded that whaling crews are awarded whale "souvenirs" at the end of each season, a practice that has continued without disclosure and against regulations since 1987.

In May 2008, Sato delivered his evidence, including the stolen meat, to Tokyo public prosecutors, laying criminal complaints against crew members.

A month later, however, the prosecutors raided Greenpeace premises and arrested him and Suzuki.

The "Tokyo Two" were held for 26 days and interrogated for a total of 200 hours before being bailed.

Dirk Voorhoof, a Belgian freedom-of-speech expert, says the prosecutors breached Japan's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. "We can speak here of an arbitrary and disproportionate interference by the judicial authorities," he says.

However, resistance to meddling in Japanese cultural prerogatives runs deep and the new Democratic Party of Japan government seems no less committed to whaling than its predecessors.

"It would be a different story if these were endangered species . . . on the verge of extinction," said Foreign Minister Katsya Okada recently. "But if not, I think the average Japanese would like to consume whale meat into the future."

They like the idea, perhaps, but the taste is fading. The ICR has chronic difficulty shifting its product, notwithstanding extensive price subsidies and government-backed "whale culture" promotions.

In December, the institute held 4246 tonnes in stockpile, 37 per cent more than at the same point in 2008.

In recent seasons, worse over-supply has only been prevented by Sea Shepherd's disruptions; the fleet killed 220 fewer whales than its Antarctic quota of 900 last season and this year's shortfall might be larger.

Greenpeace's first whistleblower, however, remains a whaler at heart. "He thinks it's perfectly fine," McNevin says.

"But he approached us because of the corruption in the industry, the waste and the other things he saw from the inside that were dishonourable and corrupt.

"He was just sick to death of seeing that continue."


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