Japan whaling ships set out on Antarctic hunt

TOKYO: Japanese whaling ships departed Friday on the annual Antarctic hunt, the government said, defying a worldwide moratorium and international opposition.

The two vessels set sail from the port city of Shimonoseki in western Japan with the plan of killing 333 minke whales, a Fisheries Agency official in Tokyo told AFP.

Japan is a signatory to the International Whaling Commission's moratorium on whale hunting that has been in force since 1986, but uses a loophole in the temporary ban allowing for lethal scientific research.

Tokyo claims it is trying to prove the whale population is large enough to sustain a return to commercial hunting for a traditional source of food, but the meat still ends up on dinner tables and is served up in school lunches.

In 2014, the United Nations' International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Tokyo to end the Antarctic hunt, saying it found permits issued by Japan were "not for purposes of scientific research".

After the court ruling, Japan cancelled its 2014-15 hunt, only to resume it the following year under a new programme with a two-thirds cut in the target catch number, saying the fresh plan is genuinely scientific.

"The ICJ has not denied the research whaling per se, but said that it needs more clarification as to the number of hunts and their purpose. So we are trying to improve these points," the agency official in Tokyo told AFP.

"Although there is no alternative to our lethal research, we will continue to look for such an alternative by testing non-lethal measures," he said. — AFP