8 Jan 2010

Labour attacks 'muted' Govt response to boat collision

10:12 pm on 8 January 2010

The Labour Party is accusing the Government of putting the lives of anti-whaling protesters at risk with what it calls a muted response to the collision between a protest boat and a Japanese whaling vessel in the Southern Ocean.

The Ady Gil, which was mostly crewed by New Zealanders, was crippled by the collision, which occurred near Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, on Wednesday.

Both the New Zealand and Australian governments have ruled out sending a vessel to monitor the situation but Maritime New Zealand and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) have been told to investigate the collision.

Labour's foreign affairs spokesperson, Chris Carter, says this country has been a world leader on whale conservation but it appears the Government is on holiday on this issue.

Maritime New Zealand is investigating the collision because the Ady Gil is registered here. AMSA is involved because the incident occured in Antarctic waters claimed by Australia.

Protesters see Japan as being favoured

The protesters themselves are accusing the New Zealand and Australian governments of being more loyal to their trade agreements with Japan than worrying about the safety of their own citizens.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society claims that the Japanese ship Shonan Maru No 2 rammed the Ady Gil, a claim denied by the Japanese.

Society president Paul Watson says the Japanese will treat the incident as a green light to become more violent if there is no diplomatic action from officials in Australia and New Zealand.

In Tokyo, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Hirofumi Hirano, said his government was investigating because a Japanese ship was involved.

Japanese and New Zealand officials met in Wellington on Thursday to discuss the incident, and Australia has expressed its concerns to Japan about safety in the Southern Ocean.