New Zealand's Foreign Ministry called in Japan's ambassador Monday to protest a Japanese whaling vessel's entry into the 200 nautical mile limit of the country's exclusive economic zone, calling it "deeply disrespectful."
In a statement, Foreign Minister Murray McCully said a senior official of the ministry, in the meeting with Japanese Ambassador Yasuaki Nogawa, conveyed New Zealand's "deep disappointment" over the entry into its EEZ by whaling fleet security ship Shonan Maru No. 2 in pursuit of The Steve Irwin, an antiwhaling vessel of conservationist group Sea Shepherd.
Japan rejected the criticism, with the top government spokesman saying the security ship acted while observing international rules.
"Freedom of navigation in each EEZ is ensured for (vessels of) all countries under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. We don't see any problem," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference in Tokyo.
McCully said Japan had "ignored" a call by the New Zealand Embassy in Tokyo on Thursday for members of its whaling fleet to steer clear of New Zealand's EEZ, reflecting the country's strong opposition to Japanese whaling in the Antarctic Ocean.
The Japanese Embassy's deputy head of mission was summoned to the ministry Friday and told that the incident was "unhelpful, disrespectful and shortsighted."
"Today's meeting with the ambassador served to further reiterate how deeply disrespectful the vessel's entry into our EEZ was," McCully said.
"New Zealand's strong opposition to Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean is well-known and further action may be taken," he warned without elaboration.
Australia, with New Zealand's backing, has taken Japan to the International Court of Justice over its so-called "research whaling" program, which they say is a cover for commercial whaling. A ruling on the case is expected soon.