How Japan's thirst for whale-blood bought prosperity to St Kitts

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The Independent Online

It is spanking new, the fisheries centre in the tranquil harbour of St Kitts in the West Indies, where small boats were bobbing at anchor in the sunshine yesterday. One warehouse has already been built, while the shell of a larger new building is taking shape. And no attempt is being made to hide who is paying for it.

A Japanese flag, fluttering alongside the flag of St Kitts and Nevis, informs passers-by the project for fisheries development is being funded by the Japanese government.

The project is costing a total of $5.6m (£3m). That is the sort of money Japan is prepared to pay an impoverished Caribbean state in return for its vote in the International Whaling Commission (IWC), in its mission to secure control of the institution and eventually overturn the 20-year international moratorium on commercial whaling.

And from the Japanese point of view, it is money very well spent.

In the course of the voting at the IWC in St Kitts which opened on Friday, St Kitts delegates voted "yes"to every vote called by Japan, culminating in the key ballot over the so-called "St Kitts Declaration" late on Sunday night - a resolution pronouncing the moratorium invalid and calling for it to be scrapped.

In that vote, the decade-long, multimillion-dollar effort by the Japanese to gain the backing of small Caribbean and African states in the IWC finally paid off - they won, by a single vote, and ushered in a new era in the battle to save the whale.

To scrap the moratorium formally, the Japanese would need a 75 per cent majority, which in practical terms is unlikely.

But they will be happy with their new 51 per cent majority that will allow them to change the IWC in many ways - by stopping discussion of the conservation of dolphins and porpoises, for example, or having environmental groups such as Greenpeace banned as observers at the IWC conferences.

For the first time since the moratorium was introduced in 1986, the pro-whaling countries - principally Japan, Norway and Iceland - have the bit between their teeth and feel things are going their way. Yesterday conservationists said that countries that oppose whaling needed to wake up to the changed situation and take appropriate action.

Vassili Papastavrou of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said: "As a first step, the Japanese ambassador should be summoned to Downing Street and told in no uncertain terms what the UK thinks of his country's activities in the IWC.

"That's basically how serious political issues are dealt with and this is now a serious political issue.

"What is now needed to solve the problems inside the IWC is action outside. Japan needs to be told at every opportunity that its whaling must stop and that its approach of bringing poor developing countries to the IWC undermines international order and is fundamentally wrong."

Mike Townley, Greenpeace's whaling campaigner at the St Kitts meeting, made a similar point. "It is now time to take the campaign to save the whales further up the political ladder," he said."It is time for prime ministers and presidents to pick up the phone, for London, Sydney and Washington to open direct channels into Tokyo. Mr Blair, Mr Bush and Mr Howard, call Prime Minister Koizumi, make the strength of feeling known."

Philippa Brakes, of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), called for the public to become involved in whale conservation once again. "The re-engagement of the public about the fate of whales must be the catalyst for high level engagement" she said.

"Seeing Japan back in the driving seat at the IWC with a clear strategy for domination must recall the devastation that a pro-whaling majority last wrought on whale stocks. This may be just the wake-up call that the world needs."