Australia will send an aircraft to Antarctica to monitor Japan’s whale hunt, Environment Minister Greg Hunt says.
Making the announcement in Melbourne on Sunday, Mr Hunt said it was important to monitor the whaling season, given the risk of confrontations between protesters and whalers.
“It sends a clear message that the Australian government expects all parties to abide by the laws of the seas,” he said in a statement.
Mr Hunt said the choice of a plane instead of a ship was made for operational reasons as the most effective means of monitoring a wide area of the Southern Ocean.
He said flights would be planned ahead of time and staffed by customs and border protection officers.
In the lead-up to the September election Mr Hunt pledged that a Customs vessel would monitor the whale hunt.
Critics say the vessel he intended to use this season is now preoccupied with patrolling waters off Christmas Island for asylum seeker boats.
Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese took to Twitter to slam the move.
Another broken promise from Tories – no ship to monitor activity in Southern Ocean
— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) December 22, 2013
Japan’s whaling fleet is expected to arrive in its planned hunting zone in the Southern Ocean before the end of the year.
Anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd has already vowed to intercept the fleet before a single whale is slaughtered.
Mr Hunt said the chosen aircraft, an A319, will fly over the whaling area for the entire season, from January to March 2014.
“While we respect the right to peaceful protest, Australia will not condone any dangerous, reckless or unlawful behaviour,” he said.
Australia took legal action in the International Court of Justice after decades of diplomatic efforts failed to curb Japan’s whaling program.
Mr Hunt said he hoped a ruling on the case would be announced soon.