Japanese whaling ship docks in Australia

A Japanese whaling ship dodged a confrontation with environmental protesters by airlifting a sick crewman to an Australian hospital Friday. Greenpeace activists said early Friday they would try to stop the Keiko Maru from leaving Australia after its planned arrival Saturday in Hobart, capital of the southern island state of Tasmania, to evacuate a sick crewman.

But in an apparent attempt to sidestep the protesters, the sailor was winched off the ship by helicopter and taken to a Hobart hospital, Greenpeace campaigner Jason Collins said. The crewman, who has acute appendicitis, was transported to the Royal Hobart hospital Friday afternoon for emergency treatment, Australian Associated Press quoted a hospital spokesman as saying.

Greenpeace helicopter crewman John Murphy later said the Keiko Maru was spotted 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Hobart and appeared to be heading back toward the rest of the whaling fleet, which is in Antarctic waters. Collins called the Japanese ship's decision not to dock in Hobart "a victory for the local population, who voiced their disapproval at the ship's plan to dock."

Earlier, Greenpeace spokeswoman Carolin Wenzel said the environmental group would do nothing to impede the removal of the sick sailor. "What we are interested in is making sure the ship does not leave again," she said. Australia's government is a vocal opponent of Japan's whaling program, but Greenpeace accuses Canberra of failing in its diplomatic attempts to halt the annual hunt.

Sen. Bob Brown, leader of the opposition Greens Party, said Australia should send a navy ship to the Antarctic waters to monitor the Japanese whaling fleet. "Remember, this government has impounded scores of Indonesian fishing boats. It's spent millions chasing pirate ships," Brown said. "But when it comes to this piracy of whales in our waters, it seems to be sitting on its hands." "One has to wonder if that isn't because the prime minister wants to get a free trade agreement going with the Japanese prime minister in the coming 12 months," he added, reports the AP. N.U.

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