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Japan starts sea trials of whaling mother ship Kangei Maru, amid mixed reactions from green groups, public

Sea trials have begun of the first dedicated whaling mother ship to be built in Japan in 73 years, drawing polarised reactions from environmental campaigners and the public.

The Kangei Maru was launched on March 30 in the port of Shimonoseki, in southern Japan, to replace the Nisshin Maru, a converted cargo vessel that processed 17,072 whales between first going into service in 1991 and being retired in November.

The new ship has now started at-sea testing and is scheduled to set out on its maiden operational voyage in May.

Owned by Tokyo-based Kyodo Senpaku Co and costing 7.6 billion yen (US$50.1 million), the 9,300-ton ship is 112.6 metres from bow to stern and is able to haul 70-ton fin whales up its slipway. Operating with smaller catcher ships, the vessel is able to store up to 600 tons of refrigerated whale meat, enabling it to remain at sea for extended periods.

Attending the launch ceremony, Captain Shigeru Nojima told the local Yamaguchi Shimbun: “It is a ship with excellent manoeuvrability, and I am looking forward to operating it. I will be happy if the consumption of whale meat spreads from Shimonoseki to the rest of Japan.”

Kiyotaka Nakagawa, vice-chairman of Kyodo Senpaku, said, “We would like to use cutting-edge technology to propose new and delicious dishes so that as many people as possible can enjoy the whale meat that our crew members catch.”

Kiyoshi Ejima, who represents the constituency in the Upper House of the Diet, also attended the event, saying, “This is a wonderful ship built in Shimonoseki and our greatest mission now is to spread the culture of eating whale meat among the younger generations.”

Despite that enthusiasm, convincing enough Japanese people to buy whale meat appears to be the biggest