Australia Acts to Stop Iceland from Whaling

CANBERRA, Australia, February 12, 2003 (ENS) - Australia has taken action to protest the readmission of Iceland to the International Whaling Commission, according to Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr. David Kemp. The basis of Australia's objection is Iceland's refusal to abide by the current global moratorium on commercial whaling.

On Friday in Washington, DC, Australia lodged an official document with the U.S. Department of State - the depository government for the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling - dealing with Iceland's formal reservation to the moratorium.


Minke whales like this one are targeted by Icelandic whalers. (Photo courtesy HSUS)
This document states, "The Government of Australia considers that the reservation [to the ban on commercial whaling] is prohibited as it is incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention."

After several unsuccessful attempts, Iceland was readmitted to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) at a Special Meeting of the IWC October 14, 2002 in Cambridge, UK where the IWC is based. Iceland's readmittance brings the number of IWC member nations to 49.

Before withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission in 1992, Iceland was subject to the moratorium on commercial whaling. Icelandic whalers continued their commercial trade in whale products for three years after the moratorium came into effect, from 1986 to 1989, under the "scientific whaling" provision.

"After quitting the IWC in 1992, Iceland was readmitted in controversial circumstances at a special meeting of the Commission in October 2002. This controversy was sparked by a clause in Iceland's bid for readmission, which exempts it from the moratorium on commercial whaling. Under this self-proclaimed exemption, Iceland has threatened to start commercial whaling as early as 2006," Dr. Kemp said.

"As a result of Australia's action, any whaling by Iceland would breach the Convention which stands between Australia and Iceland," the Australian government document states. "In IWC parlance, it would be from Australia's perspective an 'infraction' against the rules of the Convention. We would therefore be well placed to call that country to account before the IWC."


Australian Environment Minister Dr. David Kemp (Photo courtesy Group of 8 Forum )
Iceland's reservation on the commercial whaling issue threatens to "render the Convention meaningless," said the Australian minister, and could "set a precedent that could have negative consequences for the orderly development of international law and could possibly undermine the authority of other international conventions."

Dr. Kemp said he was concerned by media reports that Prime Minister of Iceland David Oddsson said during his January visit to Japan that Iceland may resume "scientific" whaling under research provisions of the Convention that created the IWC.

"Late last year, Iceland announced it envisaged a return to commercial whaling as soon as 2006. Now, it appears Iceland may start whaling even earlier - under the guise of scientific research," Dr. Kemp said.

In Tokyo on January 14, Prime Minister Oddsson told a gathering to mark the establishment of an Icelandic Chamber of Commerce in Japan that Iceland is indebted to Japan for its new status within the IWC. Iceland looks to Japan as a market for its whale products, Oddsson said.


Prime Minister of Iceland David Oddsson visited Japan in January. (Photo courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)
"Iceland became a member of the International Whaling Commission again last year after 10 years' absence," Oddsson said. "Our membership now is made with a reservation against the ban on commercial whaling, and the Japanese government deserves our most heartfelt thanks for their invaluable assistance in enabling us to rejoin with this condition. On becoming a member Iceland undertook not to begin commercial whaling until 2006 at the earliest, but scientific whaling could start earlier. As ever, because of the small size of our home market it is a precondition for whaling off Iceland that it must be able to export the products, and in this respect we naturally look to Japan as our traditional market for them."

Referring to the Japanese research whaling, the Australian environment minister said, "We already have a situation in which, in the name of 'research', approximately 700 whales are killed each year for sale at market. This harvest adds nothing to our knowledge of whales that cannot be drawn from historical records and non-lethal research."

The Australian government hopes that other IWC signatory governments will also register protests to send a strong message to any countries intending to resume whaling without the support of the international community.

During the IWC vote on Iceland last October, Britain and the United States opposed Iceland's readmission. The United States took the position that the Icelandic reservation to the commercial whaling moratorium constituted a proposed amendment to the Schedule and had no legal effect until accepted by a vote of a three-fourths majority of the IWC members.

The United States believes that a country leaving the IWC, then rejoining with a reservation, "could undermine the effectiveness of the organization and could set a precedent for similar actions in other fisheries organizations," the U.S. State Department said in a statement at the time.

Sweden said its representatives made a "mistake" when they voted in favor of Iceland's IWC membership. But no other IWC signatory nation has registered a formal objection as Australia has done.

"Australia expects members of the IWC to participate on an equal basis to other Commission members," Dr. Kemp said. "More than a dozen other countries have joined the IWC over the past three years. None of these have attempted to exempt themselves from the moratorium or any other provisions of the Convention. Iceland should be as bound by the whaling ban as other members."

"Australia has consistently called for the cessation of this so-called scientific version of what is, in reality, commercial whaling. Any decision to expand existing whaling or to establish new industries strikes me as absurd, given the moratorium," Dr. Kemp said.

The issue will be heard at the next IWC meeting to be held in Berlin in June. The IWC's North Atlantic Minke Whale Assessment Group will gather before the main meeting to determine the health of this whale population that is the most likely target of Icelandic whalers.

"At this meeting," Dr. Kemp said, "Australia will continue the drive for the permanent cessation of commercial whaling, including lethal research, and for the establishment of a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary."