SYDNEY Australia's environment minister Tony Burke has condemned the Japanese government for reportedly dispatching its whaling fleet for another expedition season in the Southern Ocean, describing Japan's claims that its whaling program is for scientific research as "a joke."
The Australian government has been a long-time critic of the activities of Japan's whaling fleet in regional waters, and initiated legal proceedings against Japan's whaling program in the International Court of Justice in May 2010.
Burke told reporters in Sydney on Saturday that he did not expect a response from the ICJ until "sometime next year," but called on Japan to respect a moratorium on whaling in the Southern Ocean.
"In the interim it is open to Japan any day of the year to take the same action that the rest of the world has taken and that is to observe a moratorium in the Southern Ocean. That is to accept that commercial whaling is wrong and 'scientific whaling' is a joke," he said.
"We cannot continue to have a situation where everybody knows it's nothing to do with science and yet, with a nod and a wink, Japanese fleets travel from one side of the globe to the other to engage in this, and to break the moratorium year after year," Burke added.
On Friday Japanese news agency Kyodo reported that three whaling vessels had left the western Japanese port of Shimonoseki.
Australia's opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt has publicly said that should his Liberal Party coalition win government at the 2013 federal election, they would consider sending an Australian customs vessel to monitor the annual whale hunt.
Japan's previous annual whaling expeditions to the Southern Ocean have resulted in violent clashes between Japanese boats and vessels from the Sea Shepherd conservation group, drawing condemnation from Australian and New Zealand authorities.