SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia and New Zealand on Tuesday called on Japan to respect a UN court order banning whale hunting in Antarctic waters, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would increase efforts to restart the commercial activity.
The two countries hauled Japan before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2010 in a bid to end the annual southern ocean hunt, with the top UN court ruling in April that it was a commercial venture masquerading as research.
Abe told parliament on Monday he wanted to "aim for the resumption of commercial whaling by conducting whaling research in order to obtain scientific data indispensable for the management of whale resources".
New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully described the comments as "worrying", while Australia's Environment Minister Greg Hunt said his country remained opposed to commercial and lethal scientific whaling.
"While is it not clear precisely what Prime Minister Abe is proposing in the short term, the fact that he has told a Parliamentary Committee that he wants to aim towards the resumption of commercial whaling is both unfortunate and unhelpful," McCully said in a statement.
"The decision of the ICJ laid down clear guidelines for any research whaling activities in the future.
"As a country that places a high value on its good international citizenship, we hope and expect that Japan will continue to respect the ICJ decision." Australia's Hunt backed up this comment.
"We believe all parties should respect the outcome of the ICJ case," he said in a statement.
Tokyo called off its 2014-15 Antarctic season after the ICJ's decision, and said it would redesign the mission in a bid to make it more scientific.
Environment groups described Abe's latest remarks as disappointing, and said Japan could waste an opportunity to dump the controversial, money-losing business.
"We'd hope that the international court ruling would give Japan a way to step away from hunting whales in an established whale sanctuary for commercial purposes, but that doesn't seem to be the case," Sea Shepherd Australia's Jeff Hansen told AFP.
Hansen said Sea Shepherd, which has clashed on the high seas with Japanese whaling ships, would "be there to stop them" if the fleet restarted its commercial operations.
Animal protection group Humane Society International said Australia and New Zealand needed to push Japan to abide by the ICJ order.
The commercial hunting of whales is prohibited in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, which was designated by the International Whaling Commission in 1994.
However, Japan had been hunting the animals there under a "scientific research" loophole until the court's decision.