Steve Irwin, Bob Barker Sea Shepherd Ships Damaged In Clash With Japanese Whaling Vessels
February 20, 2013

Steve Irwin, Bob Barker Sea Shepherd Ships Damaged In Clash With Japanese Whaling Vessels

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

The heat has been rising in the Southern Ocean as Japanese whalers and conservationists have been going head-to-head (or keel-to-keel in this case) in an all out war over whale hunting. In the latest clash, the Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru has reportedly rammed as many as four conservation ships at sea.

Captain Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), said on his Facebook page: “The Nisshin Maru has RAMMED the Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker but both vessels continue to hold their positions. The Bob Barker is taking on water in their engine room.”

Bob Brown, director of Sea Shepherd Australia, called on the Australian government to send naval ships to the Antarctic waters.

“There's been the most outrageous attack on the Sea Shepherd Australia ships today,” said Brown, describing the attack as the “worst incident” since one of its vessels sank two years earlier.

Brown told the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) that the Nisshin Maru had repeatedly rammed the ships near a refueling station and a Japanese government escort vessel aimed their water cannons at the activist ships and also lobbed concussion grenades at them.

Brown claimed the attack continued into Australian territorial waters, a breach of international law.

"I'm very concerned and alarmed that Japan has decided to become pirates in our territorial waters," he said in the interview. "It's time the Australian government acted."

The SSCS posted a video of the collision on its website, and also on YouTube. The video shows the much larger Nisshin Maru ramming several of the Sea Shepherd's fleet.

The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) said in a statement that it was looking into the incident but was unable to comment further.

Other requests for comment also went unanswered; although the ABC cited Environment Minister Tony Burke as saying he was trying to confirm the events. He said once he has the correct information, “I won´t be going quiet.”

Watson said the incident was particularly disturbing because it occurred near the Australian Davis Research Base on the Antarctic coast and a tanker was involved.

He said the Bob Barker sustained the most damage and was taking on water and lost power. He said luckily no one from the Sea Shepherd fleet was injured. He noted that the crew was later able to resolve the water issue.

Watson said the Nisshin Maru also struck the Korean-owned fuel tanker, the Sun Laurel.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which is responsible for responding to maydays and distress calls, said it received a call from the Sea Shepherd team and is in the process of responding.

Japan´s Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) has a much different take on the current incident, as well as incidents in the past.

It last week said that the crew of the Bob Barker tried to sabotage the Nisshin Maru and Yushin Maru No.2 as they tried to transfer a whale between the two vessels. That report came months after an injunction from the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was placed on the Sea Shepherd, ordering the organization to keep away from Japanese whaling ships in the Southern Ocean. The Sea Shepherd just recently lost a battle in the Supreme Court to have that injunction lifted.

The institute released a statement on the latest clash.

It said three of the Sea Shepherd´s boats tried to stop one of its whaling vessels from refueling, even after issuing verbal warnings and spraying the conservation ships with water. However, it maintained that the boats came too close to the Nisshin Maru, causing collisions.

The institute said it has stopped for the time being because it is too difficult to refuel under the circumstances.

Watson said it is unlikely now that the whaling crew will be able to resume their hunt this season. “Not this season, the season is over in 18 days.” He said if the Nisshin Maru is forced to go north to refuel, it will not have time to make it back to resume its activities before season´s end.

“It's all over and done with I think for this year," he said.

Watson, who calls the Nisshin Maru, the cetacean Death Star, also portrays himself as the mirror image of Captain Ahab. “Instead of a white whale, it is a whale-killing death ship that I have been obsessed with stopping.”

He has been waging his war against Japanese whaling for nine long years. He has been at the helm of nine voyages to the Southern Ocean, spending some 30 months in all at sea, trying to bring an end to whaling.

This stretch of ocean has been “designated by the international community of nations as the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary, and we are here to defend the integrity and the sanctity of this legal sanctuary for whales,” said Watson, who also reports for The Guardian news agency.

Watson said that after nine years of confrontations with the Japanese ships, “Sea Shepherd have not caused a single injury or inflicted any damage; whereas [Japanese Vessels] have injured Sea Shepherd crew, damaged Sea Shepherd ships, and completely destroyed one vessel.”

Watson said the crews of the Sea Shepherd will remain committed to their goals of blocking all illegal whaling activities in the southern seas, through the remainder of this year, and also next year when the whalers return; and so on and so on.

The Japanese government maintains that its whaling activities are for vital scientific research, and continues to do so using a loophole in an international ban on whaling. However, many of the animals ultimately end up on dinner plates in the Asian nation, a fact that the government does not publicly deny.

Japan also describes the Sea Shepherd and its crew as terrorists that risk lives through dangerous tactics that obstruct scientific research.