Whale Wars Heat Up: ‘Flash Bang’ Grenade Accusation Denied

SOUTHERN OCEAN, January 10, 2011 (ENS) – Three Sea Shepherd ships have been fighting a running battle with the four-ship Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica for the past 12 days.

But Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson denies the Japanese claim that Sea Shepherd activists threw “flash bang” grenades. “The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society does not have possession of flash bang grenades nor have we ever had possession of such weapons,” Watson said Sunday after a skirmish with the Japanese harpoon-hunter vessel Yushin Maru No. 2.

The Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research alleged Sunday, “At about 1800JST two zodiac boats sent from the Bob Barker rapidly approached the Japanese vessel and the activists started hand-throwing at least two flash bangs and one smoke bomb toward the YS2. One of the flash bangs landed in the bow and the other two projectiles got entangled on the port-side protecting net of the Japanese vessel.”

Sea Shepherd activists deploy a propeller-fouling rope in skirmish with Japanese harpoon vessel Yushin Maru No. 2, January 9, 2011. (Photo courtesy ICR)

“Also, the activists put a hook and rope on the port-side handrail (where the protecting net is fixed) of the YS2. In addition, the zodiac activists deployed and dragged ropes aiming to entangle the propeller and rudder of the YS2,” said the Institute, which is based in Tokyo.

Watson said, “Flash bang grenades were actually used by the Japanese Coast Guard in 2008 against Sea Shepherd crewmembers but Sea Shepherd has not, and will not deploy these dangerous weapons in retaliation. However, Sea Shepherd crewmembers did deploy stink bombs and smoke bombs during this engagement.”

“The object of this exercise was to attempt to throw the Yushin Maru No. 2 off the tail of the Bob Barker. Sea Shepherd views the constant tailing of their vessels as a provocation to deter the Japanese whalers,” he said.

No one was injured and no vessel was damaged in Sunday’s skirmish, both sides confirm, but a Sea Shepherd inflatable was disabled by pounding seas while on its way back to the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker over 80 miles of open sea. “The Bob Barker was forced to return to pick up their crew and ensure their safety,” said Watson.

The other two Japanese vessels, the hunter-harpoon vessel the Yushin Maru No. 1 and the factory ship Nisshin Maru, have been running from the Sea Shepherd ships for days, covering some 1,400 miles in the first eight days of the year, leaving them no time to slow down and catch whales.

The conservationists aim to keep the Japanese from catching whales, while the Japanese fleet attempts to catch a self-authorized quota of up to 935 minke whales and 10 fin whales.

Watson said from the wheelhouse of the vessel Steve Irwin that he is confident the Japanese fleet can be kept on the run and on the defensive for the entire whaling season which ends in mid to late March.

The weapons in this year’s whale wars are propeller-fouling ropes, stink bombs and smoke bombs on the conservationist side. The Japanese crews fire water cannon at the activists to keep them away.

Smoke bomb fired by Sea Shepherd activists catches in net aboard Yushin Maru No. 2, January 9, 2011 (Photo courtesy ICR)

With these weapons, activists in inflatable boats sent from Sea Shepherd’s two larger ships, the Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker, are harassing the Japanese hunter-harpoon vessels the Yushin Maru Nos. 2 and 3.

The two Japanese harpoon vessels have been tailing the conservationists’ since December 31, 2010 to keep them under surveillance and report their movements to Japanese authorities.

For the first time this year, the conservationists are using high altitude weather balloons with attached cameras and radar detection capabilities. This technology allows them to keep tabs on the Japanese factory ship, the Nisshin Maru, from over 150 miles away.

The ice-bound Ross Sea is beginning to open up in the warmer austral summer weather, and Watson says Sea Shepherd is watching the narrow opening to see if the Nisshin Maru, attempts to slip through.

Sea Shepherd team attempts to outrun the spray from the Yushin Maru No. 3’s water cannons. (Photo by Barbara Viega courtesy Sea Shepherd)

Watson says, “The whaling fleet now has a big problem. If they take their harpoon boats off the tail of the Bob Barker and the Steve Irwin, both Sea Shepherd ships will be free to hunt down the Nisshin Maru without a tail constantly forwarding our position. If they don’t take off their tailing ships, they are without two killing boats for the duration of the season which will cost them a great deal of money.”

Watson’s strategy is to keep the Japanese whalers on the run trying to stay ahead of Sea Shepherd’s fast trimaran, the Gojira and its Nancy Burnet helicopter.

As long as the harpooners continue tailing the conservationists, they will prevent Sea Shepherd from closing in on the factory ship Nisshin Maru, but the Sea Shepherd will be able to keep these two vessels from catching any whales.

“Every day these four ships are burning large amounts of fuel and having very little to show for it, but at some point, the Nisshin Maru and her little gang of harpoon hooligans will need to refuel. Sea Shepherd intends to interfere with any attempts at refueling,” said Watson. “It is illegal to refuel large ships below 60 degrees south, and doing so would be a violation of the Antarctic Treaty.”

The Institute of Cetacean Research maintains that, “Japan’s research whaling in the Antarctic (JARPAII) is a perfectly legal activity carried out under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. The Institute of Cetacean Research strongly condemns the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and its continued dangerous and violent actions against Japan’s whale research vessels in the Antarctic.”

Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin, named after the late Australian animal conservationist and broadcaster, meets up with activists in inflatable, January 5, 2011. (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard today warned against irresponsible behavior in the Southern Ocean and said Sea Shepherd should not expect help from the Australian government if activists get into trouble.

“This is a remote, inhospitable, dangerous place,” Gillard told reporters in Canberra on Monday. “Any sense that somehow you can act irresponsibly and somehow someone miraculously turns up to save you – that is not the way the world works.”

Watson replied, “I have seven years of experience in Southern Ocean waters so I do not need Prime Minister Gillard to tell me that this is a remote, inhospitable, dangerous place. I also don’t expect Australia or anyone else to ‘miraculously’ turn up to save us.”

“We are marine conservationists trying to stop the poaching of whales in a whale sanctuary and we can take care of ourselves should the need arises, just as we always have,” he said.”

Watson said the Sea Shepherd vessels carry physicians, trained medics, and firemen, and have well-stocked medical wards. The ships carry emergency pumps, firefighting equipment, and towing equipment.

Before the Steve Irwin left port in December, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority notified Sea Shepherd that Sea Shepherd’s crews were not to expect any assistance, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs notified all our Australian crewmembers that the government would be limited in its capacity to help with consular services.

In January 2008, the Australian government sent an Australian Customs vessel to rescue two Sea Shepherd activists who boarded the Japanese Yushin Maru No. 2 on Watson’s orders to deliver a letter to its captain demanding a halt to Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean. Australia sent the customs vessel at the request of the Japanese and with the acceptance of the Sea Shepherd.

In 2008, an Australian federal court ruled that Japanese whaling in the Australian Whale Sanctuary is illegal and ordered the Japanese to stop killing whales within 200 nautical miles of Australia’s Antarctic territory.

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