Greeted by cheers from a small group of anti-whaling supporters, a Greenpeace boat docked in Japan yesterday, ending a weeklong standoff with Japanese authorities who had effectively barred its entry into port.
But the arrival of the Dutch-flagged Esperanza at Yokohama port, southwest of Tokyo, was strictly guarded by port authorities wary of the vessel for its role in tracking Japan's latest whaling mission in the Antarctic. Japanese officials have called Greenpeace activists terrorists and threatened legal action against environmental groups that harry whaling boats.
Following a week of negotiations, Esperanza has been allowed two days in Japan to restock supplies and change its crew, but Yokohama city turned down a Greenpeace request to open the vessel up to the public, Nobuhiro Kinoshita of the city's Port and Harbor Bureau said.
Esperanza's arrival was also delayed after Japan's seamen's union demanded the vessel's shipping agent -- which handles its port clearance -- not deal with the environmental group, prompting the agent to cancel the job.
"We're disappointed that we're still treated here as bad people," said Luke Cordingley, a British crew member who spent months tracking the fleet of Japanese whaling ships off the Antarctic. "All we want is to open a dialogue with the Japanese people."
The standoff marked a new chapter in the already strained relationship between the Japanese government and the environmental group.
Tokyo has been especially sensitive to criticism over its annual whaling hunt off Antarctica after its latest mission was cut short by a ship fire that left one crew dead. It was the first time in 20 years that Japan had to abort its whaling mission.
Though the blaze on the processing vessel, Nisshin Maru, has not been linked to earlier high seas demonstrations by activists, whaling officials have blasted environmental groups for interfering with the hunt.
Japanese video showed protesters aboard the ship of anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd, launching smoke canisters and dropping nets to entangle the whaling ships' propellors.
Greenpeace has said it had nothing to do with the attacks and offered the Nisshin Maru assistance at the time, providing the whaling fleet with information on surrounding ice conditions. The Japanese, however, declined an offer by Esperanza to tow the Nisshin Maru after the fire.
Japan says it maintains a whaling fleet for scientific research. The International Whaling Commission allows the hunts, but environmental groups have long condemned them as a pretext for commercial whaling since the practice was banned by the commission in 1986.
Tokyo says that whale populations have recovered enough from the 1980s to support a commercial whaling program.
The Nisshin Maru returned to port from Antarctica last month with a catch of 508 whales out of a target of 860. Meat from the hunt is sold, though whale meat is increasingly out of fashion in Japan, leading to an unprecedented glut and plunging prices.
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