Australia says Japan has agreed to release three anti-whaling activists who boarded a Japanese whaling support vessel two days ago.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard released a statement Tuesday saying a customs ship has been dispatched to rendezvous with the Shonan Maru 2 and pick up the men.
The trio, members of the Australian environmental group Forest Rescue, boarded the Shonan Maru 2 as it was sailing off the coast of southwestern Australia Sunday. Canberra had been concerned the men could be taken to Japan to face charges.
Ms. Gillard thanked the Japanese government for agreeing to release the men, but criticized the trio's actions, saying it “will be ultimately costly to the Australian taxpayer.”
The prime minister said this agreement with Japan does not mean that individuals will not be charged for taking similar actions in the future.
The activists were helped by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which is tailing the Japanese whaling fleet as it heads towards the Southern Ocean. The Sea Shepherd has harassed Japanese whalers for years as part of a campaign to stop whale hunting in the Antarctic Ocean.
Commercial whaling is banned under an international treaty, but Japan continues to hunt using a loophole that allows whaling in the name of science, a practice condemned by environmentalists and anti-whaling nations. Australia has filed a complaint against Tokyo at the International Court of Justice in the Hague.
It is not the first time an activist has boarded the Shonan Maru 2. A Sea Shepherd activist boarded the ship in 2010 and spent five months behind bars in Japan before being convicted on a variety of charges and deported.