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Bid to track whalers called a sham

The Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker (R) collides with the Japanese whaling fleet fuel tanker the San Laurel, on February 25, 2013The Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker (R) collides with the Japanese whaling fleet fuel tanker the San Laurel, on February 25, 2013.

Militant anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd on Monday dismissed as a “sham” Australian government plans to track Japan’s annual whale hunt by air instead of by sea, saying it was a toothless and “cowardly” response.

Australia on Sunday announced an aerial Customs and Border Protection mission to the Southern Ocean as a showdown looms between Japan’s whaling fleet and Sea Shepherd activists, saying it would send a message to both sides that the world was watching.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt had first promised to send a government ship to tail the warring groups but said the Airbus A319 would increase the surveillance mission’s reach and effectiveness.

Sea Shepherd criticised the move, with Australian chairman Bob Brown describing it as a “pretty, cowardly” backdown by the conservative government in a bid to appease Japan due to ongoing free trade negotiations.

“They’ll fly over and look from a great height. What are they going to do if something’s going wrong down there? Where are they going to send a vessel from? Because those planes are not going to be able to intervene,” Brown told reporters.

“It’s a sham operation, this plane.”

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