The Australian government will be sending an aircraft to monitor controversial Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean, breaking a pledge to send a boat to search for illegal activity. Activists have called for the country's environment minister's resignation as a result of the failure, The Guardian reports:
The environment minister, Greg Hunt, said on Sunday an A319 aircraft, co-ordinated and staffed by Customs personnel, would be deployed for the monitoring from January to March. The Greens have called on Hunt to resign over the decision, which they describe as "weak" and a clear breach of an election promise.
No mention has been made about what the aircraft, which Hunt said will be used in place of a ship for "operational reasons," will do if it spies illegal whaling (whaling has been banned since 1986, but a small quota still remains for animals taken on the grounds of scientific research). Environmentalists say that Hunt has broken his election promise by failing to send a ship, which he had urged in writing on three separate occasions, even saying that his party "commits to sending a Customs vessel to the Southern Ocean," should the whaling season continue.
The Australian plane will likely encounter vessels belonging to the activist group Sea Shepherd, which deployed their ships last week as part of their annual effort to fight whaling. While the group has sometimes been criticized for their risky behavior, former Captain Paul Watson said in a recent interview to CNN that the campaign in working. Australia's environment minister said that it won't condone dangerous behavior from the activists, though.
"It is important for Australia to have a monitoring presence in the Southern Ocean given the risk of confrontation between whalers and protesters," Hunt said. "While we respect the right to peaceful protest, Australia will not condone any dangerous, reckless or unlawful behaviour."
But other senators have pushed back against Hunt's decision not to send a ship, calling it a "weak attempt" to fulfill his election promise.