FRIGATE BAY, St. Kitts and Nevis -- Greenpeace activists went ashore yesterday in motorized rubber boats to plant cardboard tombstones on the beach in protest of the killing of nearly 2,000 whales a year despite a global ban on commercial whaling.
St. Kitts police, armed with tear gas and machine guns, quickly arrested the 10 activists, although the protest was peaceful.
The demonstration was aimed at spotlighting what Japan says is whaling for scientific research and the support that Tokyo has won from smaller countries here at the International Whaling Commission's annual meeting.
The action outside the luxury hotel where the commission was wrapping up its five-day meeting showed renewed defiance among the anti-whaling forces who suffered a symbolic setback earlier in the session. For the first time since the IWC imposed a moratorium on whaling in 1986 to protect the mammals, a majority of members voted Sunday in favor of eventual resumption of commercial whaling.
St. Kitts and Nevis, host of this year's IWC meeting, joined five other Caribbean countries and about 20 developing states in Africa and the South Pacific to give Japan a one-vote majority on the nonbinding resolution. The vote has no real influence on whaling because Japan and Iceland exploit a loophole that allows killing the mammals in the name of scientific research and Norway ignores the ban.
"While we're all focused here on when and whether Japan will take over the IWC, they're headed to the Antarctic sanctuary to slaughter another thousand whales," said Greenpeace spokesman Mike Townsley as nine fellow activists began planting black cardboard whale flukes scrawled with "RIP."
A handful of St. Kitts police descended on the protesters, wrestling them to the ground and stomping on the cardboard tombstones that they deemed contraband because they had not arrived through a legal port.
Two black Zodiac boats bearing the name Greenpeace had carried the protesters across a mile of water from the group's vessel, Arctic Sunrise. The former sealing ship was involved in a collision with a Japanese whaler in January, prompting St. Kitts authorities to bar it from entering Basseterre harbor last week on the grounds that it was a threat to national security.
Carol J. Williams writes for the Los Angeles Times.