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Australia urges release of 3 anti-whaling activists on Japanese ship

Australia urges release of 3 anti-whaling activists on Japanese ship

Australia is seeking the release of three nationals who were detained after illegally boarding a Japanese whaling fleet security ship.

The three Australians boarded the Shonan Maru 2 off the coast of Western Australia on Sunday and are being held, according to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which shadows Japan’s whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean.

Japan’s fisheries agency is holding them for questioning, Kyodo News reported.

“Our top priority at the moment is to make representations on behalf of the three men who are being held on the vessel and to see if there is a way to get their prompt release,” Attorney General Nicola Roxon said in an interview on Sky Television on Monday.

Japan conducts an annual hunt using a loophole in a 1986 global whaling moratorium that allows “lethal research” on whales. The government in Tokyo says the hunt is necessary to prove whale populations have recovered enough to justify a return to commercial whaling. Meat from whales killed on the expeditions is sold in Japan as “research byproduct.”

The nation abandoned the hunt last year for the first time in four years, saying clashes between its fleet and protesters in boats in the Southern Ocean had threatened the lives of the whalers.

Peter Bethune, a New Zealand anti-whaling activist, was tried in Japan and given a suspended prison term after he boarded the Shonan Maru 2 in Antarctic waters in February 2010.