Japanese whaling ships have set sail for the Antarctic with plans to kill more than 300 mammals, despite international opposition.
They are described as research vessels & the Japanese government describes what they are doing as "scientific whaling" to circumvent a global ban on commercial whale hunts.Â
But the outcome for the minke whales is the same â€“ they will be harpooned, hauled on board & butchered, with the meat ending up sold to consumers.
Last year the Japanese crews restricted themselves to counting the number of whales as part of their effort to prove that there are sufficient numbers to justify commercial whaling.Â
However, this year officials say they will take around a third of the 1,000 killed in previous years.
Before they departed the port of Shimonoseki, Satoshi Kunii from the Ministry of Fisheries told the crews they could face disruption from conservation groups.Â
There have been violent clashes in recent years with some ships being deliberately rammed.
"They are strongly against the resumption of our research whaling programme & have said things that could be interpreted as vowing to obstruct our operations if they meet up with us at sea," saidÂ Satoshi Kunii.
"But the Ministry of Fisheries is co-ordinating with the appropriate ministries to ensure the safety of this mission & will continue to deal with this appropriately."
Among the international vessels which could be monitoring their activity is a Royal Navy ice breaker, the HMS Protector.Â
It is currently in Tasmania, on a joint mission with Australia & New Zealand to stop illegal fishing in Antarctic waters.
Philip Mansbridge, UK director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told Sky News: "Itâ€™s illegal.Â And itâ€™s cruel because itâ€™s not possible to kill a whale humanely.Â
"The UK government needs to take the strongest diplomatic action against Japan."
Source: “Sky News”