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Don't risk lives over whaling, urges PM

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, July 8 NZPA - Prime Minister John Key has called for "cool heads" in the wake of anti-whaling activist Peter Bethune's suspended prison sentence, saying continued southern ocean skirmishes could lead to a fatality.

In Tokyo yesterday Bethune was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for five years, for obstructing the activities of a Japanese whaling fleet in the Antarctic Ocean and was awaiting deportation. Family members last night expressed their huge relief to various news organisations.

Bethune has been held in custody since February after he boarded the Japanese whaling fleet's security ship the Shonan Maru II to confront its captain over the sinking of his powerboat Ady Gil the previous month.

Mr Key said yesterday the Government wouldn't pass judgement on a Japanese judicial decision. He noted the relief which would be felt by Bethune and his family and said despite the breakdown last month of international talks to try and reach a compromise on the contentious issue of whaling, non-violent solutions were needed.

"In the end we want to see an end to whaling in the Southern Ocean," he said. "We strongly believe the kind of actions we've seen will ultimately lead to a loss of life if we're not careful, so trying to find a solution which is acceptable is very important."

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman told NZPA it was great that Bethune would be returning home, and that the Japanese government would probably be pleased to see the end of him.

But he was disappointed the Government had done nothing to force a high-level investigation into the Ady Gil collision or send its own vessels to the Southern Ocean where Japanese crews have been exploiting a moratorium loophole to whale for "research" purposes.

Labour Party conservation spokesman Chris Carter, a strong critic of Japan's whaling policy, said he applauded the line taken by Japanese justice officials in sentencing Bethune.

Bethune was part of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society when conducting protests on his boat, and despite having been expelled from that organisation for taking a bow and arrows to the Antarctic, the society has bank-rolled his defence in Japan and taken credit for his release.

The society's Canadian founder, Paul Watson, vowed last night to return to the Antarctic next whaling season to cause as much disruption as possible when the Japanese fleet returns as expected.

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