ADELAIDE, Australia — The International Whaling Commission said Thursday it sensed a new momentum toward lifting a commercial whaling ban, while allegations of vote-buying by Japan, which still hunts the mammals, grew louder.
Departing IWC secretary Ray Gambell said the commission this week had taken a major step toward the official resumption of commercial whaling.
"It's taken us 10 years to take the first step," he told reporters at the close of the IWC's four-day annual meeting in the south Australian city of Adelaide.
"I'm not sure whether people are going to gradually accelerate or whether they're going to burst into a sprint, but yes it (a lift in the ban) is possible within the foreseeable future," he said.
Japan, which has been pushing with fellow whaler Norway to lift the 1986 ban, said it was also pleased with the progress.
But it denied charges from environmentalists that it had held the Caribbean nation of Dominica "to ransom" on development aid to secure its vote against a South Pacific whale sanctuary proposed by Australia at this week's meeting.
"There are no foundations for that claim," Japanese delegation spokesman Joji Morishita told reporters.
"Many other developing countries who are receiving a large amount of aid from Japan are voting 'no' to Japanese proposals in this organization, like Brazil, Argentina, India," he said.
Japan caught more than 500 minke whales in 1999 for what it says are scientific purposes, while Norway plans to kill 655 minkes this year under its official objection to the ban.
Vote manipulated, Greenpeace says
Greenpeace accused Japan of vote-buying amid reports that Dominica's Environment and Fisheries Minister Atherton Martin had resigned in protest on Tuesday after the sanctuary vote.
"The South Pacific sanctuary was only defeated because of the votes of six Caribbean nations opposing it and it's clear that Dominica's vote was manipulated by Japan," Greenpeace said.
The sanctuary vote was lost after Australia failed to get 75 percent of the eligible 35 votes, but its supporters have vowed to press ahead with the plan at the next IWC meeting in 2001.
Dominican IWC commissioner Lloyd Pascal flatly rejected the charge that his country's vote was influenced by aid, saying Martin was being used for "anti-Japanese bashing."
"Powerful international environmental organisations are bent on bringing down the sovereign government of the Commonwealth of Dominica," he told reporters.
Gambell said he saw no case for the IWC to investigate the vote-buying allegations and noted there had been a large increase in the commission's membership in the lead-up to the vote which imposed the 1986 ban.
Gambell and Japan welcomed the IWC's decision this week to fast-track the drafting of new whaling rules that would apply when and if the ban on commercial whaling was lifted—and which are a key requisite to ending the ban.
The compromise move, put forward by 10 nations including Sweden, Ireland and Switzerland, came amid growing concern about the entrenched pro and anti-whaling positions within the IWC.
"Definitely this meeting produced some positive result from our point of view," Morishita said.
Gambell, who will step down after 24 years as secretary, said the deal to try to have new whaling rules ready by mid-2001 was a demonstration of "a will to move forward, albeit haltingly."
The rules now set to be fast-tracked would not govern quotas of whales that could be killed if the ban was lifted, but would control inspection and verification procedures.
The IWC's big concern is that Japan and Norway have been effectively able to continue commercial whaling without supervision through loopholes in the ban.
"We have got commercial whaling already, what we're looking for is to bring it under international control," Gambell said.
The IWC banned commercial whaling in a 1986 moratorium amid growing international concern that some species were being hunted to extinction, with tens of thousands of whales killed each year.
Japan says some species, particularly minkes, are now in such abundant supply that not only could they sustain commercial whaling but they are threatening other fishing stocks.
Staunch anti-whaling countries such as the United States, Britain and Australia dispute such claims.