TOKYO (AFP) — A Japanese whaling ship late Thursday handed over to an Australian customs vessel two anti-whaling activists who climbed aboard two days earlier, an official from Japan's Fisheries Agency said.
Australia sent the customs ship, the Oceanic Viking, to the Japanese whaling ship in a bid to end the stand-off involving the activists of the militant Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
"Two Sea Shepherd activists who intruded onto the Yushin Maru No 2 and have been in custody on the ship were handed over to the Oceanic Viking chartered by the Australian government," Hideaki Okada, a whaling official at the Fisheries Agency in Tokyo, told AFP early Friday.
The activists -- Australian Benjamin Potts, 28, and Briton Giles Lane, 35 -- were detained Tuesday after boarding the harpoon ship to protest Japan's whaling programme.
US-based Sea Shepherd, a militant offshoot of the environmentalist movement Greenpeace, strongly opposes Japan's plan to kill some 1,000 whales in the Antarctic Ocean this season.
The group described the activists as hostages and said they were being held as Japan pressed for the group to agree to give up its harassment of the Japanese whaling fleet.
Japan, which says whaling is part of its culture, described the militants as unwanted guests and said it was trying to get rid of them safely.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said earlier Thursday that his government was sending the customs ship to pick up the activists.
Australia initially dispatched the Oceanic Viking to monitor Japan's whaling as part of Western governments' campaign to stop the hunt.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had earlier Thursday urged calm and the safe return of the two men, saying Foreign Minister Stephen Smith was in constant contact with the Japanese government to arrange the handover.
The confrontation had forced the Japanese fleet to suspend whaling and drawn attention to efforts by activists to halt the annual hunt for good.
Japan, which says whaling is a part of its culture, uses a loophole in an international moratorium on the practice which allows "lethal research".
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »