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Greenpeace blocks whale meat transfer in Rotterdam

By Toby Sterling
Associated Press Writer / April 2, 2010

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AMSTERDAM—A ship unloaded seven containers believed to contain meat from endangered fin whales bound for Japan on Friday after Greenpeace activists chained themselves to its anchor line to prevent it from leaving Rotterdam harbor.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Arja Helmig said the organization had acted after receiving a credible tip that the ship NYK Orion was carrying meat shipped by whalers from Iceland to a Japanese customer.

The 15 activists unchained themselves after the contested meat was unloaded.

NYK Lines spokesman Robin de Puij said the company is debating what to do next.

"The refrigerated containers which led to a Greenpeace protest on the NYK Orion in Rotterdam this morning have been investigated by Dutch authorities," he said in an e-mailed statement.

"As a result of this investigation, the cargo in the seven containers has been cleared as legal and duly authorized to be shipped."

Most nations oppose hunting the fin whale, but Iceland and Japan do not accept the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species' provisions on whales.

Commercial whaling is also banned by the International Whaling Commission, but Iceland, Japan and several other countries continue to hunt whales, exploiting exemptions for scientific research. Icelandic whalers are believed to have killed more than 100 fin whales in 2009.

Rotterdam police spokeswoman Tine De Jonge said the company had voluntarily unloaded the containers and nobody was arrested Friday.

"It's an absurd situation," said Helmig, the Greenpeace spokeswoman. "It's illegal to import this meat into the Netherlands, but the authorities turn a blind eye when it passes through."

It is unclear what will happen with the meat now. Helmig said the containers have been moved to a part of the harbor where Greenpeace is unable to track them further.

She said police had promised the meat would not leave the port, but De Jonge said that was in the hands of customs officials.

The Rotterdam Customs office did not return calls seeking comment.

De Puij said a decision "on whether to load the cargo will be made later today following further discussions with the cargo owners." He declined to identify the meat's owner.

Fin whales are the second-largest species of whale, growing to a length of about 75 feet (22 meters) in the Northern Hemisphere.

They are listed as an endangered species on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List, meaning they are at high risk of becoming extinct in the wild.

The International Whaling Commission is meeting in Morocco this June and countries are expected to vote on lifting the moratorium on whaling that has been in place since 1986.

Supporters of the idea say it would actually reduce the number of whales currently being hunted by closing the "scientific research" loophole and imposing quotas. It is fiercely opposed on principle by many nations, Greenpeace and other environmental groups.