Whaling Battle Heats Up the Icy Southern Ocean

SOUTHERN OCEAN, January 9, 2006 (ENS) - A Japanese whaling ship rammed a Greenpeace campaign vessel in the Southern Ocean on Sunday, the group said. The two Greenpeace ships protesting whaling in the Southern Ocean took off in pursuit of the Japanese vessel. At the same time, a Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ship is chasing that Japanese ship too, but opinions differ on whether the two groups are working together to oppose the whalers.

Early Sunday morning local time, the Greenpeace ship MY Arctic Sunrise was rammed by the Nisshin Maru, the factory ship of the Fisheries Agency of Japan whaling fleet.

Speaking from onboard the Arctic Sunrise, the Greenpeace expedition leader Shane Rattenbury said, "There is no way to describe this as anything but a deliberate ramming which placed the safety of our ship and the lives of its crew in severe danger."


The bow of the Arctic Sunrise was damaged by the Japanese factory whaler Nissin Maru. (Photo by Kate Davison courtesy Greenpeace)
Overnight the Nisshin Maru had been offloading accumulated whale meat onto a supply vessel, the Oriental Bluebird. Rattenbury says the Nishan Maru does not have the capacity to store the double quantity of whale meat the Japanese are aiming for in this expedition.

Early Sunday morning Greenpeace activists onboard inflatables began to paint the words, "whale meat from sanctuary" on the side of the Oriental Bluebird. Their action in no way impeded the transfer of the meat and the tiny inflatables in no way represented a threat to either vessel.

The Arctic Sunrise was observing the action from over one kilometer away on the opposite side of the supply vessel from the Nisshin Maru.

As the activists completed painting the slogan, the Nisshin Mura suddenly disengaged from the supply vessel coming around a full 360 degrees before making for the Arctic Sunrise and striking it on the port side. The Greenpeace captain tried to pull out of the way of the oncoming whaler.

While the impact has left the Arctic Sunrise "battered and bruised" Rattenbury said it has not disabled the ship, but the crew have had to secure the mast on the fore deck.

Immediately after the ramming the Nisshin Maru began to steam away from the scene, 36 nautical miles inside the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Both the Arctic Sunrise and the Esperanza are in pursuit with every intention of continuing to peacefully protest the hunt, Greenpeace said.

Simultaneously, another campaign ship, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's vessel the Farley Mowat is chasing the Nishan Maru, under the command of Captain Paul Watson, founder and president of Sea Shepherd.

At the same time on Sunday morning, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s flagship Farley Mowat arrived on the scene after sailing nearly a month from Melbourne, Australia, headed for the Antarctic Southern Ocean to stop Japanese whalers from killing whales.


The Sea Shepherd vessesl (left) strikes the Japanese supply tanker Oriental Bluebird and deploys a sharp blade Captain Paul Watson calls "the can opener." (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)

When Sea Shepherd came upon the whale processing ship Nisshin Maru, the Japanese ship was accompanied by a large supply tanker, the Oriental Bluebird. They were waiting for their harpoon vessels, the catcher ships, to return, so they could load up whale meat for transport back to Japan, Watson says.

Captain Watson says he ordered the Japanese owned Panamanian ship Oriental Bluebird to leave the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary, and when they would not, he deliberately sideswiped them.

"I informed the Oriental Bluebird that I was acting under the authority of the United Nations World Charter for Nature to uphold international conservation regulations prohibiting the slaughter of whales in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary," he said. "When they refused, we backed up the message by slamming our starboard hull against their starboard hull."

There was no damage apparent to either ship aside from a long scratch along the hull of the Oriental Bluebird caused by a device attached to the Farley Mowat's hull called the "can opener." Watson said, the blow "was meant as a warning to convey the seriousness of our order for them to leave the area and to stop assisting with the illegal slaughter of whales."

can opener

With a sharp point, the "can opener" aboard the Sea Shepherd menaces the Oriental Bluebird. (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)
After the collision, the Oriental Bluebird, now referred to by the Sea Shepherd crew as "the S.S. Whale Meat," began running with the Farley Mowat in pursuit.

Farley Mowat First Officer Alex Cornelissen says, "We are not down here to protest whaling. We are here to uphold international conservation law. This ship is assisting an illegal operation and thus has no business in the whale sanctuary."

On the stern of the Oriental Bluebird are the words "whale meat" painted on the ship by Greenpeace activists yesterday. Says Cornelissen, "Greenpeace tagged the ship yesterday and we keyed it today."

Earlier Sunday morning, the Farley Mowat encountered the Japanese factory ship, the Nissin Maru. The Farley Mowat dispatched three inflatables and a helicopter to catch up with the Nisshin Maru in advance. When the Farley Mowat was less than one mile from the Japanese factory ship, "the whalers began to run at full speed northward," Captain Watson says.

Presently the Farley Mowat is in pursuit. The Farley Mowat is not as fast as the Nisshin Maru but Watson says he "can keep the Japanese on the run for at least the rest of the day to prevent them from transferring any dead whales from the harpoon vessels. Those catcher ships will not kill any whales when they know they cannot reach their mother ship."

On Christmas day (Australian Time), the Farley Mowat intercepted the Nisshin Maru for the first time. During this confrontation, the whaling ship turned and purposefully headed on a collision course with the conservation ship. Captain Watson,ordered his crew to deploy a mooring line, and when the Nisshin Maru saw this, they backed off to avoid their propeller from being fouled.

Captain Watson says the Japanese whaling operation is in violation of many international laws and regulations, including:

But are these two groups working together to chase the Japanese whalers out of the Southern Ocean, or not? There is a longstanding difference of opinion that has divided Greenpeace and Paul Watson, who was one of the early founders in Vancouver, Canada and was one of the first people to interpose himself between whales and whales.


Paul Watson and a companion place their inflatable between the Russian whaling vessel and the whales. 1974 (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)
More recently, he said regarding Greenpeace, "They forgot their original purpose and turned into a big, rich bureaucracy, more interested in fund-raising than in saving lives, so I got fed up and quit ... they're a bunch of wimps."

A January 4 ONI NOTE from the United States Office of Naval Intelligence posted on the Sea Shepherd site, says the two groups are not working together. It states, "Supporters of the Japanese projects are implying that Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Organization are acting in concert. ONI sees no evidence for this despite the fact that the current high-profile Japanese expedition has drawn the attention of both groups."


Paul Watson founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in 1977. (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)
“They are down here opposing illegal whaling,” said Captain Watson. “And we are down here opposing illegal whaling. We are down here together, working towards the same objective. I would say we are working together.”

"Greenpeace may not be working with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society but the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is working with Greenpeace," Watson wrote on the Sea Shepherd website on Saturday, burying the hatchet.

And Greenpeace? The ONI Note states, "Greenpeace rejects the claims made by Japan that its members are disregarding the laws of the sea as they trail the Japanese whalers, and denies claims they are working in conjunction with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society."

Farley Mowat First Officer Alex Cornelissen sees the primary objectives of the two groups to be different. "We are not down here to protest whaling," he said Sunday. "We are here to uphold international conservation law."

Watson says, "The Japanese whalers have attempted to ram both Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd ships yet that is not considered to be of any concern. The Japanese whalers have attacked Greenpeace crew with water cannons and struck Greenpeace crew with poles yet that does not seem to be a concern. The Japanese whalers have warned that if the whalers injure any protestors, it will be the fault of the protestors. This implies a threat, yet there does not seem to be any concern."

"Not one politician," he said," representing a government from the U.S., Australia, Canada, or New Zealand has condemned Japan’s threats or Japan’s actions."


Greenpeace ship MY Esperanza and her inflatables, try to hinder the shooting and eventual transfer of a minke whale by the Yushin Maru No.2 catcher ship. After two and a half hours of running the gauntlet between the harpoon and the whale the activists witnessed the eventual kill of the whale. (Photo by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert courtesy Greenpeace)
Both groups are indignant and outraged that years of international protest and repeated calls from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to stop the annual whale hunt have not resulted in a halt to the whaling. Instead, the Japanese government has ordered an increase in the numbers of whales killed.

They call it "scientific" or "research," whaling, and there is an exception to the IWC's 20 year old global ban on whaling that permits scientific study, but the use of lethal means when non-lethal means of study exist angers many nations, groups and individuals.

The Fisheries Agency of Japan has more than doubled its planned catch of minke whales to 935, expressed in the official plan as 850 plus or minus 10 percent.

In addition they will target 10 fin whales. Endangered, fin whales are the second largest creatures on Earth, after blue whales. According to the Japanese plan, over the next two years 40 more fin whales will be added to the annual kill along with 50 humpback whales.