Geoffrey Tuxworth, Simon Peterffy and Glen Pendlebury have been held on the Shonan Maru 2 since Saturday and risked being taken back to Japan to face trespass and piracy charges.
Presenter: Emily Bourke
Speakers: Mark Willacy, ABC North Asia Correspondent
MARK WILLACY: Well officially Japan is saying they've decided to release these three activists because they didn't cause any damage while boarding this whaling security ship, they didn't confront any of the crew violently, and unlike Peter Bethune, the New Zealander who a few years ago was taken all the way back to Japan after boarding this same whaling ship, they weren't carrying knives.
So officially at least the reason is that these men were peaceful, they didn't cause any damage. But I'd say unofficially is that they probably didn't want to cart these three men in the belly of a whaling ship all the way to the Antarctic through the whaling season and then all the way back to Japan where they would have had to be remanded, there would have had to have been a court case that would have taken months.
And then it's probably likely that court would have given them a suspended sentence and they would have been deported back to Australia. And it's in a year when Japan has mentioned that it wants to really concentrate on free trade agreements with Australia in particular.
Now that's not something that's going to be disrupted by any whaling dispute, because it's always kept on a different track, but it would have complicated things, it would have just been a headache that Japan and Australia for that matter don't need during those sorts of talks.
EMILY BOURKE: Will the men face any charges?
MARK WILLACY: No the men will face no charges. What will have to happen now is a handover of sorts and that in itself will present incredible logistical difficulties.
EMILY BOURKE: Well what do we know about the handover?
MARK WILLACY: What we do know is that the Shonan Maru 2, the vessel they boarded and are now being held on is steaming south towards the Antarctic whaling grounds, it wants to link up with the other whaling ships, in particular the Nisshin Maru, which is the whaling factory ship.
And it's also shadowing the Steve Irwin, which is the Sea Shepherd conservations group's main vessel. Its mission, the Shonan Maru's mission, is to keep in touch with the Steve Irwin so it can shadow it. It's a bit like the watchers watching the watchers.
We've got a situation where Sea Shepherd is in pursuit of the whalers and the whalers are in pursuit of the Sea Shepherd, both the - the Steve Irwin. So it's one of those situations where the Australians probably have a very short window to be able to get these men off because with every hour, the Shonan Maru is moving further away from Australia and closer to Antarctica.
EMILY BOURKE: Mark, what's the public sentiment in Japan towards these activists?
MARK WILLACY: In the past the Japanese public has made it clear that they see activists from groups like Sea Shepherd as eco-terrorists and that's something that Japan's fisheries agency, the groups that run the whaling program here in Japan, are very keen to promote.