Australia has welcomed Japan's decision to release without charge three anti-whaling activists who boarded a Japanese whaling support vessel two days ago. The Canberra government has warned protest groups that they might not receive such lenient treatment in the future.
The three Australian activists were expected to be taken to Japan to face criminal charges. But authorities in Tokyo have decided, instead, to release the men.
Australia will send a customs vessel to collect the men and take them back to Australia.
The trio, members of the Australian environmental group Forest Rescue, boarded the Shonan Maru 2 as it was sailing off the coast of southwestern Australia Sunday.
The activists were helped by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which is tailing the Japanese whaling fleet as it heads towards the Southern Ocean. The Sea Shepherd has harassed Japanese whalers for years as part of a campaign to stop whale hunting in the Antarctic Ocean.
Australia’s attorney general, Nicola Roxon, is critical of the protesters’ actions and says the best place to oppose whaling is in the courts.
“We will as a government abide by the law. We call on all Australian citizens to abide by the law," Roxon said. "These men who put themselves in quite extreme risk could have been heading to Japan for charges to be laid there. That's something that anyone who might contemplate taking such hazardous action in the future ought contemplate very carefully.”
Anti-whaling activist Rowan Davidson says conservationists will continue to try to disrupt the whaling fleet in Antarctic waters.
“We don't write the rules of the game. We just play it hard like they do, and we will use whatever means we can," Davidson said. "We're into non-violent direct action and we'll do whatever we need to do. If that means creating diplomatic incidents for the government, so be it.”
Japan introduced what it calls "scientific" whaling to circumvent a 1986 ban on commercial whaling. It says it has a right to monitor the whales' impact on its fishing industry. The meat from the Japanese kills ends up in the market place.
Last year, Australia filed a complaint against Japan at the International Court of Justice in The Hague to stop Southern Ocean scientific whaling.
A decision is expected as early as 2013.