Wellington: The governments of New Zealand, Australia and The Netherlands called Monday for people protesting against Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean to exercise restraint and avoid violence.
As the Japanese whaling fleet headed for the Southern Ocean, New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully, Australian counterpart Stephen Smith and Maxime Verhagen of The Netherlands said they respected the right to protest.
"At the same time, we do not condone -- indeed we condemn -- dangerous or violent activities, by any of the parties involved, be it demonstrators or whalers," they said in a joint statement.
"Our governments expect any unlawful activity to be dealt with in accordance with relevant international and domestic laws."
Militant protesters from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have harassed the Japanese whaling fleet in sub-Antarctic waters in recent years, and last year its Dutch-registered ship Steve Irwin collided with one of the Japanese whaling vessels.
This year Sea Shepherd is also planning to deploy a super-fast powerboat, the New Zealand-registered Ady Gil, formerly known as Earthrace, which last year circumnavigated the globe in the record time of just under 61 days.
The three governments said the Southern Ocean was a remote and inhospitable region where the risk of incidents was high and the capacity for rescue or assistance was low.
"Our governments jointly call upon all parties to exercise restraint and to ensure that safety at sea is the highest priority," the ministers said.
The three governments said they remained "resolutely opposed" to Japanese whaling.
Although there is an international moratorium on commercial whaling, Japan uses a loophole to kill hundreds of whales a year in the Southern Ocean, claiming it is carrying out scientific research.