WELLINGTON, Feb 10 (Reuters) - New Zealand summoned Japan's ambassador on Monday to protest the entry of a Japanese whaling ship into its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), after clashes earlier between whalers and vessels from the Sea Shepherd conservationist group.
New Zealand had asked Japan last week to order its whalers to steer clear of its maritime zone after vessels from both sides had collided in international waters.
Regardless of the warning, one whaler, the Shonun Maru No. 2, breached New Zealand's EEZ, which ranges up to 200 nautical miles offshore, as it shadowed a protest vessel, the Steve Irwin, on its way to refuel at the southern port of Dunedin.
"The New Zealand Embassy in Tokyo last week made it very clear we did not want members of the Japanese whaling fleet entering our EEZ," McCully said in a statement. "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 was strongly opposed to Japanese whaling in the southern oceans, and further action might be taken.
Japan hunts whales under a scientific research provision in the moratorium on whaling.
A Wellington-based advocate for the Japanese whalers defended the right of whalers to enter the EEZ in order to shadow protest ships.
"If they're allowed to come in, refuel, resupply and then leave to commit violent and criminal acts on the high seas, Japan has no choice but to keep an eye on them," Glenn Inwood of the Institute for Cetacean Research told Radio New Zealand. He said the Japanese government was aware and approved of their entry into the EEZ.
(Reporting by Gyles Beckford; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)