Sea Shepherd Whale Defense Ship Damaged in Heavy Seas

SOUTHERN OCEAN, January 1, 2012 (ENS) – A huge wave rolling across the Southern Ocean has damaged one of three vessels sent by a conservation group to interfere with the Japanese whale hunt.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society deployed the 35-meter (115-foot) monohull trimaran Brigitte Bardot to pursue the Japanese whaling fleet, when on December 28 a “rogue wave” cracked the hull and severely damaged one of her pontoons.

Eight-foot swells in the Southern Ocean (Photo by Simon Ager courtesy Sea Shepherd)

Captain Paul Watson, onboard the Sea Shepherd flagship Steve Irwin, then some 240 miles to the southeast, headed his ship to the rescue through heavy seas, a 20 hour sail.

When the Steve Irwin reached the damaged trimaran, the two vessels turned toward the nearest port for repairs, the Western Australian port of Fremantle about 1,500 miles to the northeast. The conservationists now are navigating through yet another storm.

The Steve Irwin, named after the late Australian television star and wildlife expert, is escorting the trimaran, named Brigitte Bardot after the French conservationist film star.

The trimaran is exceptionally seaworthy. In 1998 she circumnavigated the globe in 74 days, setting a world record.

“We are watching the Brigitte Bardot very closely,” said Captain Watson. “The seas are getting rougher and the winds are increasing and there is a great deal of pressure being put on the damaged pontoon of the Brigitte Bardot. It looks like we will have to struggle through these conditions for another 24 hours.”

Damage to the Brigitte Bardot (Photo by Simon Ager courtesy Sea Shepherd)

The 10-member crew of the Brigitte Bardot are wearing their survival suits around the clock, said Watson.

The Japanese government security ship Shonan Maru #2 continues to tail the Steve Irwin and the Brigitte Bardot.

Finding the Japanese whaling fleet in the thousands of miles of ocean south of Australia has been a challenge during every one of the seven previous years the Sea Shepherd has mounted a campaign against the Japanese whale hunt.

This year, however, the conservationists have new technology at their command. On Christmas Eve, the Sea Shepherd crew aboard the Steve Irwin deployed a drone to successfully locate and photograph the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru.

“We can cover hundreds of miles with these drones and they have proven to be valuable assets for this campaign,” said Watson. “We now have an advantage we have never had before – eyes in the sky.”

On Christmas Day the conservationists began their pursuit of the whalers, but three Japanese harpoon-security ships moved in on the Steve Irwin to shield the Nisshin Maru to allow it to escape.

Captain Paul Watson, right, with two Sea Shepherd crew members, holds a drone in the hangar aboard the Steve Irwin. (Photo by Barbara Veiga courtesy Sea Shepherd)

Today, while the other two Sea Shepherd ships are on their way to Fremantle, the third ship, the Bob Barker, also equipped with a drone, continues to pursue the Japanese whaling fleet.

Watson says it may take two weeks for the Steve Irwin to rejoin the chase, but last season the Bob Barker, named after the former American television game show host, was successful in shutting down the whaling operations on its own.

“This is not going to be a successful year for the whalers,” said Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden, first officer aboard the Bob Barker. “They have never arrived so late before and they have spent more money for security to protect the whalers from Sea Shepherd than they will ever gain this year from profits from whaling.”

“We continue to pursue them as they continue to run eastward to avoid us,” said Hammarstedt. “We will not let up on them until they leave the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.”

Established in 1994, the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is an area of 50 million square kilometers surrounding the continent of Antarctica where the International Whaling Commission has banned all types of commercial whaling. The IWC has designated two such sanctuaries, the other being the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Japan was heavily involved in commercial whaling until the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling went into effect in 1986.

The Japanese government maintains that its Antarctic whaling is research whaling, not commercial whaling and is permitted by the IWC. The meat from these annual whale hunts is sold in shops and restaurants, a practice allowed under IWC rules, although most IWC member nations oppose it.

Dead minke whale on the deck of a Japanese whaler (Photo courtesy Institute of Cetacean Research)

The Institute of Cetacean Research, a government agency, says it is “a legitimate program conducted since 2005/2006 under Special Permits granted by the government of Japan under Article 8 of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.”

On December 7, 2011, three ships of the Japanese whaling fleet, led by the Yushin Maru, sailed from the port of Shimonoseki towards the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to kill 900 Antarctic minke whales and 50 endangered fin whales under the “scientific research” program.

On December 9, 2011, Japanese government’s whaling fleet operator, Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, and the Institute of Cetacean Research filed a lawsuit against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Paul Watson in the United States, where they are headquartered on the Pacific coast island of Friday Harbor, in Washington state.

The Japanese plaintiffs are seeking a court order in U.S. District Court in Seattle that prevents the Sea Shepherd and Watson from engaging in activities at sea that could cause injuries to the crews and damage to the vessels.

“The activities perpetrated by SSCS and Paul Watson not only put at risk the safety of the research vessels at sea but are also affecting the scientific achievement of the JARPA II research program and therefore cannot be overlooked,” say the Japanese plaintiffs.

Captain Paul Watson at the helm of the Steve Irwin (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)

“This seems like a frivolous lawsuit to me,” said Watson. “We have the images of the Japanese whalers destroying one of our ships, ramming our ships, running over our crew, firing upon us, throwing concussion grenades, deploying acoustical weapons, hitting us with water cannons and bamboo spears, and they are suing us because they are accusing us of violence towards them. We have not rammed them and we have not caused a single injury nor have we been charged with a crime.”

Watson says the conservationists are defeating the Japanese whalers, without causing any injuries, by ruining the financial underpinnings of the whale hunt. Because of Sea Shepherd interventions, the Japanese whalers have suffered losses for years and they are now in debt to the Japanese government for subsidies of over US$100 million dollars, he says.

The Japanese government took the equivalent of US$30 million out of the fund set aside for recovery from the Great East earthquake and tsunami last March, and spent the funds to protect the whaling fleet.

Captain Watson said, “Our objective from the beginning was to sink the Japanese whaling fleet economically, to bankrupt them. We have succeeded in doing so. Now the task is to defeat them politically.”

“We are under no illusion that this will be easy,” Watson said. “The whalers survive because of massive Japanese government subsidies and much of this subsidy was allocated from the tsunami earthquake defense fund.”

“This whale hunt is now a glorified, state sponsored, welfare project existing only to appease extreme right wing nationalist elements in Japan,” Watson declared. “We are now dealing with fanatics seeking to kill whales for no other reason than nationalistic pride.”

During the past seven campaigns, Sea Shepherd has saved the lives of 2,781 whales and exposed Japanese whaling activities to the world.

Watson said, “Last season we defeated the whalers and sent them home in humiliation after they were only able to kill 17 percent of their quota.”

This year, Sea Shepherd sent three ships with 88 crewmembers to the Southern Ocean.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.