This year’s encounters between Japanese whalers and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society appear to be the most violent of any year so far — and the whaling season is not yet over.
As I described in the previous entry in Water Ways, which I just completed, legal action against Sea Shepherd has caused few substantive changes in these high-seas confrontations. That’s because Sea Shepherd has transferred all such operations from its U.S. organization and to its Australian organization. The move effectively removes jurisdiction by the U.S. government, according to Sea Shepherd reports, mentioned in the previous blog post.
So let’s catch up on actions so far this year in the Southern Ocean between Sea Shepherd and the Institute of Cetacean Research. As I reported in January (Water Ways, Jan. 4), Sea Shepherd has added the 184-foot SSS Sam Simon, a former Japanese government ship, to its flotilla. The fleet now includes four primary vessels: the Sam Simon, Steve Irwin, Bob Barker and Brigitte Bardot, as well as several unmanned surveillance aircraft.
The ships left in mid-December for the Southern Ocean, where the Bob Barker found the factory ship Nisshin Maru on Jan. 29, according to accounts from Sea Shepherd. The Japanese ship escaped in heavy fog, but Sea Shepherd claims it was able to prevent any whales being killed during the entire month of January — the first year that has happened, the report says.
Feb. 7: The Sam Simon locates the Korean-owned Sun Laurel, a refueling ship, 1,250 miles south of Albany, Australia. The Steve Irwin changes course, hoping to intercept the Sun Laurel and block the whaling ships from being refueled.
Feb. 15: The Bob Barker catches up with the Nisshin Maru, the factory ship, 280 miles east of Australia’s Mawson’s Research Station. The harpoon ship, Yushin Maru No. 2, was nearby and harpoons a whale as the Bob Barker’s crew watches in horror. The Institute of Cetacean Research (PDF 33 kb) claims the Bob Barker nearly caused a collision as it tried to prevent the transfer of the whale to the factory ship. Meanwhile, the Sam Simon remains with the refueling ship about 600 miles away and closing.
Feb. 16: The Steve Irwin joins the Bob Barker, which is still tailing the factory ship, which continues south to the Amery Ice Shelf before turning around and heading north.
Feb. 17: The refueling ship, followed by the Sam Simon, meets up with the Yushin Maru, a harpoon ship, along with the Shonan Maru No. 2, a Japanese security vessel. The Sam Simon positions itself between the Sun Laurel and the Yushin Maru. According to a Sea Shepherd report, the Yushin Maru makes a wide turn and heads on a collision course with the Sam Simon, whose captain decides to back away and allow the Yushin Maru to refuel.
Feb. 20: After the two groups of vessels come together, Sea Shepherd reports multiple collisions between the factory ship, Nisshin Maru, and the Bob Barker and Steve Irwin, followed by this description:
“The Steve Irwin circled back, and the Nisshin Maru pushed the Bob Barker into the Sun Laurel, sandwiching the Bob Barker between itself and the Sun Laurel. The Nisshin Maru then fell back behind the Bob Barker, and rammed full speed into the portside stern of the Sun Laurel, shattering their portside life-raft, and destroying the davit to launch the other life-raft. The Nisshin Maru then rammed the Bob Barker again from behind, destroying one of their radars, and all of their masts.
“The Bob Barker completely lost power and issued a MayDay distress call. As this distress call was issued, the Nisshin Maru turned away and began fleeing north.” (Power was eventually restored, and no injuries were reported.)
The account by the Institute of Cetacean Research (PDF 20 kb) says the Sea Shepherd vessels caused the collisions while trying to force their way between the Nisshan Maru and the refueling tanker.
Feb. 25: More collisions are reported as the Bob Barker blocks the refueling of the Nisshin Maru. The Institute of Cetacean Research says three Sea Shepherd vessels become involved in close approaches, causing collisions with the factory ship and the refueling vessel. Sea Shepherd claims the Nisshin Maru caused the collisions before giving up the refueling effort.
The latest alarming report from Sea Shepherd says its cluster of ships is being approached by a 453-foot Japanese Navy ship, the Shirase, an ice breaker operating with a crew of 250. We’ll have to wait to see what happens.