SYDNEY - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull vowed Wednesday to raise whaling in meetings with Japan's leader Shinzo Abe this week as environmentalists urged him to pressure Tokyo to halt this season's hunt.
A Japanese whaling fleet set sail this month for the Antarctic on a mission to resume the hunt after a one-year pause, sparking a "strong" formal protest from 33 countries, led by Australia and New Zealand.
While Turnbull's first visit to key ally Japan as prime minister from Friday will cover a broad range of topics, including defence cooperation and trade, the controversial whale hunt will be on the agenda.
"Prime ministers Turnbull and Abe will discuss all aspects of the Australia-Japan relationship," a Turnbull spokesman said.
"This includes economic and trade relations, security and defence cooperation, and Australia's concerns about Japan's decision to resume whaling in the Southern Ocean this summer." In a joint statement, Greenpeace, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Australian Marine Conservation Society and activist group GetUp called on Turnbull to abandon diplomacy on the issue.
"Japan's hunt is not scientific research, it's nothing more than commercial whaling, and it's been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice (ICJ)," said Greenpeace Australia Pacific Oceans campaigner Nathaniel Pelle.
"When Mr. Turnbull visits Japan, he must remind Mr. Abe that Japan should accept the jurisdiction of the ICJ, as it promised, and abandon the whale hunt." Tokyo said last month it planned to kill 333 minke whales for scientific research this season in spite of a worldwide moratorium and widespread opposition.
The fleet's departure marked the end of a year-long suspension prompted by a United Nations' ICJ ruling in 2014 that the annual hunt was a commercial venture masquerading as research.
It was Australia that hauled Japan before the court in 2010 to try to end the annual hunt.
"Prime minister Turnbull must tell the prime minister of Japan to listen to the courts, to listen to the scientists and to bring back the fleet," said the Australian Marine Conservation Society's Kate Simpson.
"Australia has stood up to Japan before, they must act again to challenge Japanese whaling." Environmentalists from Sea Shepherd Australia have vowed to pursue the Japanese fleet and aim to intervene in any hunt, as they have done for the past decade.