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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 February 2007, 07:34 GMT
Japanese whale hunt ended early
The Nisshin Maru ship (ICR)
The Nisshin Maru is the whaling fleet's only processing ship
Japan's whaling fleet has cut short its hunt in the Antarctic after a fire two weeks ago crippled the main boat.

The controversial annual hunt, which Japan says was carried out for research purposes, was meant to continue until the end of March.

But Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research said the Nisshin Maru boat could not be fully repaired at sea.

Japanese government officials said the fleet had caught 508 of this season's target of 860 whales.

The six-vessel fleet had been dogged by anti-whaling activists since it set sail in December.

But an unrelated fire aboard the Nisshin Maru, which killed one crew member and left the boat without power for 10 days, proved a bigger problem.


"Far from an embarrassment, the situation in the Antarctic was an unfortunate event that no-one could have predicted," said Hiroshi Hatanaka, director general of the ICR.

He said much of the boat's whaling equipment had been damaged.

The government of New Zealand and the environmental group Greenpeace protested to Japan after the boat had floundered off Antarctica, near a large penguin colony.

Fears of a fuel oil leak prompted an offer from Greenpeace to tow the vessel out of the area which Japan rejected.

Japan is strongly opposed to the international ban on commercial whaling. It hunts whales every year under what it describes as a scientific research programme.

Japanese officials said the research hunting would resume in December.

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