SOUTHERN OCEAN, February 20, 2013 (ENS) – The Japanese whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru has collided with two whale conservation vessels and its own refueling tanker in Australia’s Antarctic waters, damaging the other ships. No injuries are reported.
Images transmitted by the whale defense group Sea Shepherd show the Nisshin Maru scraping the stern of the tanker ship Sun Laurel and striking the Sea Shepherd ships Bob Barker and Steve Irwin.
The collisions, near Australia’s Davis Station, came on Wednesday afternoon local time as the Nisshin Maru was trying to get close enough to the Sun Laurel to take on fuel.
The Bob Barker was hit in the stern and was taking on water in the engine room. Now, however, the leak has been controlled and Bob Barker Captain Peter Hammarstedt has withdrawn the mayday distress call he issued at the height of the skirmish.
Sea Shepherd’s flagship Steve Irwin was hit multiple times by the Nisshin Maru, according to the group’s founder Paul Watson, who is onboard as an observer.
Watson told New Zealand’s 3 News TV that Bob Barker “lost power,” and the collision “toppled the main mast, smashed up the deck.”
“The Nisshin Maru struck the Steve Irwin twice and struck the Bob Barker multiple times, and then also smashed into the side of their own tanker, the Sun Laurel, causing damage to the Sun Laurel,” Watson said.
“They’re frustrated we’ve prevented refueling operations for two days,” he said.
Captain Hammarstedt told the New Zealand news outlet Stuff, “We sustained structural damage to the ship, but we are afloat, we do have propulsion and we have withdrawn our mayday.”
“There was a moment when Nisshin Maru came in and I was completely unable to move out of the way, even if I wanted to,” Hammarstedt said.
“I looked out my bridge window to starboard and all I could see was Nisshin Maru’s anchor, a vessel five times my size,” Hammarstedt said. “As they started pushing us, my biggest fear was that they would push us over – and we have 35 souls on board.”
Hammarstedt said the Japanese vessel hit the Bob Barker several times before withdrawing. “They realized they could either back off or kill everybody aboard ship,” he said.
Watson says Japanese crewmembers threw stun grenades at the Sea Shepherd ships, but he said none of the 42 people aboard the Steve Irwin or the 34 crew on the Bob Barker was injured.
The South Korean-owned, Panamanian registered Sun Laurel, a vessel that the Sea Shepherd crews have documented leaking a trail of oil into the sea inside Australian Antarctic Territorial waters, is attempting to refuel the Nisshin Maru with heavy fuel oil.
“It’s illegal to transfer heavy fuel below 60 [degrees] and we’re 300 miles below 60 and we’re about 180 miles from the Australian Davis research base,” Watson said.
Jeff Hansen, director of Sea Shepherd Australia, said, “This is a violation of the Antarctic Treaty and a violation of Australian law and a violation of international law.”
Hansen says the Japanese whaling fleet and its contract refueling tanker Sun Laurel are in violation of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), the main international convention covering prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental causes.
Because of these violations, the Sea Shepherd ships have blocked attempts by the Nisshin Maru to refuel from the Sun Laurel.
“We are deeply concerned of the potential for a massive oil spill and ecological disaster in the pristine Antarctic wilderness, off Australia’s Antarctic coast in Australian waters,” said Hansen.
Captain Siddharth Chakravarty aboard the Steve Irwin said, “This situation has gone too far. The recklessness of the Japanese whaling fleet and the Sun Laurel have put Antarctica’s rich environment at grave risk for an ecological nightmare. The time has come for the Australian government to intervene and and put a stop to this insanity.”
The Sea Shepherd’s Southern Ocean campaign is being run by its Australian branch this season.
The transfer of authority took place at the end of December in compliance with a restraining order issued by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals December 17 banning Watson and the U.S. branch of the Sea Shepherd from approaching within 500 yards (457m) of the Japanese whaling vessels.
Due to that order, Watson resigned from all positions within the organization he founded in Vancouver, Canada in 1978.
The Institute for Cetacean Research, the government agency that runs the whaling program, said in a February 20 statement that the Sea Shepherd vessels “provoked several collisions…” with “foolhardy obstruction attempts…”
The ICR said the Nisshin Maru and her supply tanker “were subject to sabotage by the Sea Shepherd (SS) ships Steve Irwin (SI), Bob Barker (BB) and Sam Simon (SmS).”
“During the attack, the NM used her water pump as a preventive measure to make SS vessels refrain from further approaching and repeatedly broadcasted a warning
message to stop them. However, the NM decided to interrupt her refueling operation attempts judging from difficulty due to the extremely dangerous behavior of the SS
vessels,” the Japanese agency said.
The Japanese claim the Sea Shepherd vessels attacked them on February 15 as the Nisshin Maru and the “research vessel” Yushin Maru No. 2 were trying to transfer a sampled whale to the Nisshin Maru, NM.
The ICR said, “The BB [Bob Barker] repeatedly came to close quarter distance from both research vessels with the aim of interrupting the transference. At one point the BB came as close as about 55 meters from the NM, which means BB was about to collide with NM. Also, SS activists aboard a rigid inflatable boat sent from the BB deployed a rope in front of the YS2 bow, aiming to disable the Japanese vessel rudder and propeller.”
“During the attack, the NM and the YS2, besides using their water pump as a preventive measure to make SS desist from further approaching, repeatedly broadcasted a warning message to stop them. Further, in order to secure safety, the NM and the YS2 towed from their stern a safe-distance warning rope and buoy to contain the BB closing in, but the ropes were cut off by activists. There were no injuries or damage to the Japanese crews and vessels,” said the Institute.
After several attempts the sampled whale was transferred to the Nisshin Maru. Because the Sea Shepherd vessels have kept them on the run, this is likely the only whale the Japanese whalers have been able to catch this season of their self-assigned quota of 950 minke whales, 50 endangered fin whales and 50 humpback whales.