Byline: Associated Press
TOKYO (AP) — Japan is spending 2.3 billion yen ($29 million) from its supplementary budget for tsunami reconstruction to fund the country’s annual whale hunt in the Antarctic Ocean, a Japan fisheries official confirmed Dec. 8.
Tatsuya Nakaoku, a fisheries agency official in charge of whaling, defended the move, saying the funding helps support Japan’s whaling industry as a whole, including some whaling towns along the devastated northeastern coast. One ship on the hunt is based in Ishinomaki, a town hit badly by the March 11 tsunami, he said.
The budget request was made to increase security and maintain the “stable operation” of Japan’s “research” whaling, he said. Japanese whalers have faced increasingly strong opposition from environmental groups in recent years, including boats with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
The conservation group Greenpeace blasted the use of the funds, claiming it was siphoning money away from disaster victims. The Japanese government has passed supplementary budgets totaling 18 trillion yen ($230 billion) for reconstruction after the March 11 tsunami, and nearly all the other items are rebuilding projects.
Media reports said Japan’s annual whaling expedition left Shimonoseki in southern Japan Dec. 6 with plans to kill 900 whales, mostly minke whales.
Japanese officials didn’t confirm departure details, citing safety reasons. But Japan coast guard spokesman Masahiro Ichijo said this year’s fleet is carrying “the biggest protection ever,” including an unspecified number of coast guard officers, safety equipment and a fisheries agency patrol ship. He said the announcement of the deployment of coast guard officials “would serve as a deterrent” against “attacks” by conservation groups.