Violence Escalates in Southern Ocean Whaling Battle

Violence Escalates in Southern Ocean Whaling Battle

SOUTHERN OCEAN, February 6, 2010 (ENS) – The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society says the Japanese whaling vessel Yushin Maru 3 “intentionally rammed” its anti-whaling ship Bob Barker just after noon local time today, gashing its hull and endangering the lives of its crew.

The Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research, ICR, says the Bob Barker was the ship that did the ramming while the Yushin Maru 3 was trying to avoid a collison.

Three of the ships involved in today’s incident: from left, the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker trailing the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru, and to the right, the Yushin Maru 3. (Photo by Glen Lockitch courtesy Sea Shepherd)

All that the two enemies agree upon is that the collision occurred off northern Antarctica about 180 miles off Cape Darnley in the Australian Antarctic Territory, some 4,500 kilometers from Fremantle, Australia. No crew was injured during the collision.

In the Southern Ocean on its mission to shut down Japanese so-called research whaling, the Sea Shepherd vessel had been blocking the slipway of the whaling fleet’s factory ship Nisshin Maru, preventing the transfer of slaughtered whales onto the factory ship when the collision occured.

The Sea Shepherd says four harpoon ships, the Yushin Maru 1, 2, and 3 and Shonan Maru 2, were circling and making near passes to the stern and bow of the Bob Barker, which continued to block the slipway.

At this point, “the Yushin Maru 3 intentionally rammed the Bob Barker, creating a 3-foot long 4-inch deep gash in the mid-starboard side of the Sea Shepherd vessel above the waterline.”

The Bob Barker continues to block the slipway of the Nisshin Maru and Captain Chuck Swift says he intends to stay in this position off the stern of the Nisshin Maru until the whalers return to Japan or until they run out of fuel.

The Japanese ICR admits that the Yushin Maru No. 3 and three other “research vessels maneuvered to contain the Bob Barker and thus secure a safe distance between the Nisshin Maru and the antiwhaling ship.”

The ICR says “the Bob Barker suddenly approached from the Yushin Maru No. 3 port side launching a number of butyric acid-containing bottles and other projectiles. To avoid a collision the Yushin Maru No. 3 put hard to starboard but the Bob Barker starboard came into contact with the port stern of the research vessel. The Yushin Maru suffered minor damage to its hand rail and hull.”

The Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker shoots a laser beam. (Photo courtesy Institute of Cetacean Research)

The Japanese say the crew of the Bob Barker directed a green laser beam at their vessels and used a large slingshot to shoot bottles containing butyric acid against the Shonan Maru No. 2, hitting the deck with 10 bottles of butyric acid, a slippery substance that smells like rotten butter.

Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson is commanding another ship, the Steve Irwin, currently en route from Fremantle, Australia to join the action.

Watson sailed the Steve Irwin from the Southern Ocean to Fremantle for emergency helicopter repairs and to refuel, re-provision, and drop off rescued crew from a third Sea Shepherd ship, the Ady Gil, which sank after being rammed and cut in two by a Japanese whaler on January 5.

Captain Paul Watson, August 2009 (Photo by Lisa Morgan)

Watson says today’s incident demonstrates “a continued escalation of violence by the illegal whalers in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.”

“Because the whalers got away basically scot-free with the outrageous sinking of the Ady Gil, they now apparently think they can do whatever they want and they appear to have no qualms about endangering Sea Shepherd crew,” he said.

Watson has been fighting the whalers since 1976 when he was one of two men in an inflatable boat to confront a Russian whaling ship in the world’s first demonstration of its kind. Every whaling season since 2005, Watson has commanded a Sea Shepherd expedition to the Southern Ocean attempting to shut down the Japanese whale hunt.

“What we really need is for the governments of Australia and New Zealand to step up and start enforcing maritime laws in these waters, or who knows what the whalers will do next. Australian and New Zealand lives are at risk every day in these waters,” Watson said.

But the governments of Australia and New Zealand have shown no sign of getting involved in this battle. Instead, they have embarked upon a non-lethal whale research endeavor to show the world, and particularly Japan, that it is possible to do research on whales in Antarctic waters without killing them.

A humpback whale off Trinity Island in Antarctica (Photo by Adam and Debbie Purser of Classic Sailing)

The joint Australia-New Zealand expedition sailed from Wellington Tuesday to study humpback whales, Antarctic minke whales and blue whales in the Ross Sea and the adjacent Southern Ocean off southeastern Antarctica, thousands of kilometers from the scene of the Sea Shepherd-Japanese clash.

Led by the Australian Antarctic Division’s Dr. Nick Gales, the Australian, New Zealand and French research team are sailing aboard the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research ship Tangaroa. They plan to use acoustic surveys, cameras and darts to take biopsy samples of whales they encounter on their six-week voyage.

More than one hundred satellite tags will be deployed onto the whales to enable researchers to keep track of their movements over the coming months as they head north to their breeding grounds.

Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett said the non-lethal research will improve the understanding of the population structure, abundance, trends, distribution, and ecological role of whales in the Southern Ocean.

A $32 million investment by Australia includes over $14 million to kick start the Southern Ocean Research Partnership. In March 2009, 13 countries developed a non-lethal research plan which has been endorsed as part of the scientific work program of the International Whaling Commission.

Besides Australia and New Zealand, committed research partners include Argentina, Chile, Brazil, South Africa, France and the United States. “I encourage other countries, including Japan, to consider participating in this important initiative,” said Garrett.

Preliminary results of the expedition will be presented at the IWC annual meeting in Morocco in June.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.

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