Japanese Call Off Antarctic Whaling Due to Ship Fire

TOKYO, Japan, March 1, 2007 (ENS) - The Institute of Cetacean Research, in conjunction with Kyodo Senpaku and the government of Japan, said Wednesday that the Antarctic whale "research program" for the 2006/2007 austral summer season will be cut short as a result of a fire aboard the whaling vessel, the Nisshin Maru.

Kyodo Senpaku operates the vessels used by the Institute of Cetacean Research, ICR, to carry out its whaling programs. The target this season was up to 935 minke whales and 10 endangered fin whales. The ICR has not released figures on the number of whales actually taken.

The Institute's Director General, Dr. Hiroshi Hatanaka said that after completing a thorough assessment of the Nisshin Maru following the February 15 fire, it was concluded that some of research equipment could not be recovered, and the ICR "could not responsibly pursue the research activities as originally planned."


The Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru in the Ross Sea after the fire, accompanied by the smaller Yushin maru No.2. February 16, 2007. (Photo courtesy Institute of Cetacean Research)
After the fire broke out, 126 people were evacuated from the vessel, leaving a crew of 30 who extinguished the fire. First they repaired the electrical system and then restarted the ship's main engine.

ďFar from an embarrassment, the situation in the Antarctic was an unfortunate event that no one could have predicted," Dr. Hatanaka said. "Our thanks go out to the crew who are very able seamen and responded in a professional and responsible manner to the fire and subsequent repairs to the vessel."

"While full power was restored, a more detailed inspection over the last few days shows that the Nisshin Maru is unable to be fully repaired at sea," Dr. Hatanaka said.

"The repository, where much of the equipment and tools used for biological research are stored, was heavily damaged, which will not allow for the program to continue in the Antarctic for this summer," he said.

Upon returning to Japan, the Nisshin Maru will undergo inspection to investigate the cause of the fire, after which it will enter dock for a thorough refurbishment and preparation for whaling in the western North Pacific later this year.

Dr. Hatanaka said that Japanís Program in the Antarctic is a long-term research program and will resume in December.

In a letter of protest issued Wednesday, the Institute and Kyodo Senpaku condemned the actions of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society from February 8 through 14 in the Southern Ocean.

"They are inexcusable criminal acts that go against the practices of good seamanship. What is more, they are spiteful and mindless terrorism perpetrated in disregard of human life," the Japanese organizations said.


Sea Shepherd crew in a small inflatable boat throw smoke bombs onto the Japanese whaler Kaiko Maru. February 12, 2007. (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)
"Sea Shepherd resorted to throwing a large number of smoke bombs and bottles containing a harmful chemical substance on the decks of the mother ship Nisshin Maru and the non-lethal research dedicated sighting vessel Kaiko Maru, resulting in two injured crewmen," the letter said.

At the time, Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson said, "The Sea Shepherd crew has successfully delivered six liters of butyric acid onto the flensing deck of the Nisshin Maru. This 'butter acid' is a nontoxic obnoxious smelling substance. The foul smell has cleared the flensing deck and stopped all work of cutting up whales."

Butyric acid is listed by several university chemical departments as a corrosive substance that is harmful if swallowed or inhaled. The extremely unpleasant smell may cause nausea and the liquid may burn skin and eyes. It is readily absorbed through the skin and is a severe skin, eye and respiratory irritant.

"Sea Shepherd malicious attempts against the research vessels also included releasing ropes and nets to entangle their screw. Furthermore," said the letter, "the two Sea Shepherd vessels came to either side of the nonresistant Kaiko Maru stopping her from continuing sailing and rammed her three times, causing big damage to her hull."


The Sea Shepherd ship Robert Hunter, left, and the Japanese whaler Kaiko Maru collide in the Southern Ocean. February 12, 2007. (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)
From Melbourne, Australia, where the two Sea Shepherd ships - Robert Hunter and Farley Mowat - have been berthed since February 22, Captain Watson said, "The Australian Federal police, at our request, conducted a forensic examination of the damage on the Robert Hunter. Their inspection lasted a full day. We are confident that the evidence will support our claim that it was the Japanese whaler Kaiko Maru that deliberately rammed the Robert Hunter."

"The fact is," Watson said, "that when we ram an illegal whaling ship, we proudly accept credit for our actions."

The ICR claims that Japanís "whale research" is "perfectly legal" because it is carried out "under a special permit issued by the government of Japan pursuant to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling."

In their letter, the ICR and Kyodo Senpaku called the Sea Shepherd a "terrorist organization" and appealed to the international community "to refrain from providing support in any form, including their granting of ship nationality..."

Captain Watson said the arrival of the Sea Shepherd ships was not a problem for Australia. "Despite not having a flag of registry, the Farley Mowat was not hassled and was processed into the country without detention or detainment," he said.


Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson responds to media questions in Melbourne, Australia. February 24, 2007. (Photo courtesy Sea Shepherd)
Watson is exploring the possibility of keeping the Farley Mowat in Melbourne permanently as a Southern Oceans Whale Sanctuary Information Centre and Museum.

"Keeping her in service to the whales is a fitting retirement," Watson said. After 10 years of high seas campaigns, the Farley Mowat is getting old, and spare parts are hard to find.

Watson intends to keep both ships in Melbourne for the next few months to secure new registration and to repair damages caused during the campaign.

Sea Shepherd will then do a tour of Australian ports before returning to the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary at the end of this year. Undeterred by the Japanese protest letter, Watson says he will "once again intervene to protect endangered whales from the illegal poaching by the Japanese whalers."