TOKYO - Japan on Wednesday confirmed it planned to use some of the public funds earmarked for quake and tsunami reconstruction to boost security for its controversial annual whaling hunt.
Greenpeace charged that Tokyo was siphoning money from disaster victims by spending an extra 2.28 billion yen ($30 million) on beefed up security amid looming battles between the whaling fleet and environmental groups.
Japan's whaling fleet left port Tuesday for this season's annual hunt in Antarctica, with the coast guard saying earlier that it would deploy an unspecified number of guards to protect it from anti-whaling activists.
Fisheries Agency official Tatsuya Nakaoku said the extra security was designed to ensure safer hunts, and ultimately help coastal towns that largely depend on whaling to recover from the March 11 disasters.
"The government will support the reconstruction effort of a whaling town and nearby areas," he told AFP Wednesday.
"This program can help it reconstruct food processing plants there...
Many people in the area eat whale meat, too. They are waiting for Japan's commercial whaling to resume," he added.
In February, Japan cut short its hunt for the 2010-2011 season by one month after bagging only one fifth of its planned catch, blaming interference from the U.S.-based environmental group Sea Shepherd.
Last month, Japan passed a 12.1 trillion-yen extra budget, the third this year, to finance post-quake reconstruction and revive the economy reeling from the impact of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
About 498.9 billion yen was earmarked for fisheries-related spending, including 2.28 billion yen for "stabilising whaling research".
"We will bolster measures against acts of sabotage by anti-whaling groups so as to stably carry out the Antarctic whaling research," the fisheries department said after the budget was passed.
Commercial whaling is banned under an international treaty but Japan has since 1987 used a loophole to carry out "lethal research" on the creatures in the name of science.
Japan says it is necessary to substantiate its view that there is a robust whale population in the world, but makes no secret of the fact that whale meat from this research ends up on dinner tables and in restaurants.
Anti-whaling nations and environmentalist groups routinely condemn the activity as a cover for commercial whaling.
Image: John / via Flickr