Senate transcripts released yesterday, Wednesday February 26, have revealed a number of facts about Australian government's program to monitor whaling operations in the Southern Ocean, including costs relating to the first, and so far only, surveillance flight.
Ms Donna Petrachenko, Chief Advisor of International Biodiversity and Sustainability and Australia’s Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission,stated that the surveillance flight cost $93,248 AUD for the lease of the A319 aircraft alone. Further costs for customs staff and other expenses remain undisclosed.
The total budget allocated for flights is $300,000, which, based on the cost of the first flight, allows for only two further flights this whaling season. No explanation has been given by the government as to why there has been only one flight to date.
Earlier this year, the Australian government reportedly spent $1.8 million AUD rescuing a Russian ship in Antarctica after the ship became stuck in ice.
Captain Siddharth Chakravarty of The Steve Irwin said, "The Australian Government's commitment to protecting the whales in the Southern Ocean is a very weak one. The cost of the surveillance program divided by the lives of 1035 threatened and protected whales equates to a mere $289.86 AUD per whale. Sea Shepherd's fuel bill alone is four times the allocation of the Abbot government's whale monitoring program."
On Wednesday, Australian Air Force Chief Geoff Brown shed doubt on the credibility of the monitoring program when he told a Senate estimates hearing that, "The [Airbus] A319 is not suitable for that task," of monitoring Antarctic whaling.
Captain Peter Hammarstedt of The Bob Barker stated, “Minister Hunt claimed that his surveillance flights would be more effective than sending a ship, while at the same time only budgeting for three flights for the entire three-month whaling season. My ship has sustained two unprovoked attacks so far and the promised aircraft wasn't present for either of them. Japan thinks that they can get away with battering and pummelling my ship as we uphold the will of the Australian people, because no one is here to watch them. An Australian Customs vessel could have prevented the ruthless and unprovoked attacks that Australia did nothing to stop.”
On Tuesday, Captain Hammarstedt wrote an open letter to Minister Hunt, expressing his disappointment at the Australian government’s lack of action in the face of an onslaught by the Japanese whaling fleet on the Sea Shepherd ships and the Australian citizens on board. The letter followed a second night-time ambush from the Japanese whaling fleet on his ship, during which three harpoon ships crossed his bow at close proximity 33 times, trailing steel cables meant to disable his ship’s rudder and propeller.
As yet, Mr. Hunt has not responded to the letter.
Operational matters relating to the Australian government’s surveillance flights remain confidential and there is currently no process to determine how the government will judge the effectiveness of its monitoring operations. Further, Mr. Malcolm Thompson, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Environment, the Department under which the directive for the flights was initiated, has stated that he is “not even privy to, let alone able to share” information relating to the monitoring flight, but rather, receives debriefing from the Australian Customs Department, whose personnel are present on the flight.
In July 2013, Australia challenged the legality of the Japanese whaling operations at the International Court of Justice. The government would not commit to increasing law enforcement measures next season if a judgement is issued in Australia’s favour at International Court of Justice.