July 04, 2012
Whaling as they see fit ... Japanese whaling ship, the Yushin Maru No. 1, cuts through ice in the southern Atlantic Ocean. Photo: AP
PANAMA CITY: Japan and its allies have shot down a Latin American-led proposal to create a sanctuary for whales in the southern Atlantic Ocean, reigniting international tensions over Tokyo's whaling.
The International Whaling Commission, which has long been torn by disputes, fell into familiar divisions just hours after officials opened the main session of their week-long annual meeting in Panama City.
Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Uruguay put forward a proposal to declare the southern Atlantic a no-kill zone for whales, a largely symbolic measure as whaling ended there long ago.
Thirty-eight countries voted in favour of the measure and 21 voted against, with two abstentions. Under commission rules, proposals need to enjoy a ''consensus'' of 75 per cent support for approval.
Jose Truda Palazzo, who spearheaded the proposal for the Atlantic sanctuary when he was Brazil's representative to the International Whaling Commission, blamed nations that receive Japanese aid for scuttling the proposal.
''Japan doesn't want to give an inch on anything that may compromise their ability to roam the world doing whaling as they see fit,'' said Truda Palazzo, who is now at Brazil's non-governmental Cetacean Conservation Centre.
''You can't really believe that Nauru or Tuvalu has an interest or has studied the sanctuary. They are voting because Japan tells them to.''
But environmentalists saw some silver lining, saying the proposal was enjoying growing support. At last year's meeting held on the English Channel island of Jersey, whaling nations walked out to prevent a vote on the Atlantic sanctuary.
Japan each year kills hundreds of whales in Antarctic waters that are already considered a sanctuary, infuriating Australia and New Zealand, where whale-watching is a lucrative industry.
Japan, whose Antarctic expeditions are routinely hindered by the US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, says it is abiding by a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling as its activities are for research.
The International Whaling Commission allows lethal science on the ocean giants, with the meat then going to consumption.
Japan argues that whaling is part of its culture and accuses Western nations of insensitivity.
Norway and Iceland are the only countries that openly defy the commercial whaling moratorium and also voted against the proposed Atlantic sanctuary.