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When making money out of whaling is legal under EU rules

Within the European Union it’s strictly against the law to harm a whale or dolphin. This means that it’s highly illegal to go whaling.

However, there appears to be nothing to stop ports and shipping companies making money out of helping to ship whale meat from non-IWC sanctioned hunts, through EU ports and on to Japan.

And that’s what’s happening at this very moment. European ports and shipping companies are funnelling whale meat from port to port and then on to Japan.

In doing so, EU-based companies are helping Icelandic and Norwegian whaling companies to keep their businesses alive. Indeed the actions of these EU companies may be fulfilling a crucial linchpin in keeping these industries viable, when the EU and the majority of Member States  have the express  aim of trying to end commercial whaling once and for all.

And what does the EU Commission say about all this? Basically, that they are unable to take any action and indeed, appear unwilling to do so.

What are the Member States of the EU doing? It would seem very little, apart from ushering the problem on to the next unwitting EU port.

The best comparison we can come up with is that,

“It’s like banning Class A drugs in our schools, and then letting the teachers act as drug dealers at the school yard gates”

Someone has to take responsibility and end this trade once and for all.

WDC is calling on the EU Commission, Parliament and the Member States to close this loophole in EU law and take action to stop directly helping commercial whaling flourish.

On the 18th June 2013, WDC wrote, on behalf of a coalition of groups, to the EU Commission to raise concerns that member states of the EU were being used as transit states for the shipment of specimens of endangered species. We were specifically concerned about whale products(which are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Annex A of Council Regulation No. 338/97 and are strictly protected under the EU Habitats Directive), transiting through EU member states as they moved between Norway, Iceland and Japan.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation noted that,

  • In 1987, 140 tons of Icelandic whale meat was stopped in Hamburg, Germany. The seven containers, destined for Japan, labeled as ‘seafood”, were confiscated.
  • In June 1988, eight containers carrying 200 tons of Icelandic whale meat en route to Japan were stopped in the port of Helsinki, Finland by the Finnish government. Then Minister of Environment, Kaj Barlund, opted to return the shipment to Iceland.
  • In April 2010, the container ship ‘NYK ORION’, which was transporting meat from 13 endangered fin whales of Icelandic origin in seven containers, was stopped in Rotterdam Harbour, the Netherlands. Although at the time the ship was offloaded and sailed on without the cargo, subsequent reports suggest that the containers were eventually shipped on to Japan.
  • On February 16, 2013, 4,250 kg of frozen whale belly-meat, blubber, tails and fins left Ålesund, Norway on board the vessel ‘ECL Commander’. The cargo was transferred in Rotterdam to the ‘NYK Olympus’ and departed on February 27th, bound for Japan.

WDC gave the EU Commission clear advance warning of recent media reports suggesting  that Iceland intended to use the port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, for the imminent transit (we anticipated a transfer between vessels) of whale products from endangered fin whales to Japan.

No sooner had we written to the EU than Iceland attempted to get another shipment of whale meat through Europe to Japan.

Timeline of current movements

We are still checking the facts of the case, but at the moment we think the timeline of this latest shipment of whale meat to Japan is as follows:

Thursday 27th June: We believe a vessel owned by the large global transport company, Samskip, arrives in Rotterdam from Iceland with a cargo of whale meat. The meat is allegedly packed in  six containers, and is believed to be the equivalent of 10 fin whales. There appears to be some indication that the meat is from fin whales killed during the 2009/2010 season rather than this year’s hunts, but this is yet to be confirmed

Thursday 4th July: The Cosco Pride leaves Rotterdam with the whale meat having  trans-shipped the cargo from the Samskip vessel.

Friday 5th July: The Cosco Pride enters the port of Hamburg to be greeted by Greenpeace boats and banners.

Saturday 6th July: (according to media reports, still to be verified) the whale meat is unloaded from the Cosco Pride.

Sunday 7th July: The Cosco Pride leaves port without the whale meat, bound for Antwerp and then via the Suez Canal  to its home port of Hong Kong.

Tuesday 9th July: The whale meat appears to remain impounded in Hamburg. WDC has spoken with Hamburg Customs officials and they have confirmed that the whale meat was not mislabelled as such. In the ship´s manifest / cargo list it did say “Frozen fish” but this list has no relevance whatsoever for customs. For customs, only the relevant CITES paperwork and the bill etc. are relevant and they were all correct. WDC understands that both customs and the Environment Ministry checked the papers extensively and everything was in order.

WDC has been concerned about the labelling, as noted above Iceland has tried export whale meat previously labeled as ‘fish’.

Wednesday 10th July: Greenpeace reports that their action at the Tollerort terminal in Hamburg on the freighter “Eilbek” has resulted in the freighter refusing to transport the whale meat which is now stranded in Hamburg.

And during this sorry episode  , what are the various countries involved and the EU doing?

Only last month, the Dutch Minister for Agriculture, Sharon Dijksma, responded to public pressure by announcing  that she would take swift and decisive action to prevent the transit of whale meat via the Port of Rotterdam, but it’s not clear that this is a legal step or a voluntary concession in response to calls for action?

On the 4th July, WDC received a response from the EU Commission to our letter of the 18th June, stating that,

‘…shipment and accompanying CITES documentation may be inspected by the EU Member States where it is in transit and may be seized where they do not have the required documentation. At this stage, the EU is not considering amending the EU legislation in order to prohibit transit of CITES-listed species through EU ports.’

WDC believes that all EU ports should immediately ban all whale meat shipments and should refuse entry to any vessel that is carrying whale meat or whale products. 

On Wednesday it was confirmed by the German Government has asked all German ports to voluntarily commit to refuse to transport whale meat.

Since Article XIV of CITES (Convention in Trade in Endangered Species) allows Parties to impose more restrictive domestic controls on trade than provided in the Convention, we are strongly urging the European Commission to enact strict measures to prohibit transit of Annex A (i.e. whale) specimens through EU ports with immediate effect.

Such measures would be entirely consistent with strict European legislation for the protection of whales and dolphins and with measures taken by other nations, such as the USA, which bans the transit of endangered species through its ports.

“It’s time that the EU cleaned up this loophole and stopped helping to keep whaling viable for Norway and Iceland and their campaign to undermine the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling. 

If the rules don’t make sense, then let’s change them and protect the whales properly, rather than saying nothing can be done”

Below you will find the most recent exchange of letters between WDC and the EU Commission