Sea Shepherd, Japan Whalers Collide At Sea, Blame Game Ensues
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
In what may be a sequel of last year’s events in the chilly Antarctic waters, two ships collide at sea during the 2014 whaling season.
As the annual whale hunt kicks into high gear in the southern ocean, a Japanese whaling ship and one of Sea Shepherd’s anti-whaling vessels had a dangerous encounter that fortunately left nobody injured but did cause some minor damage to both ships.
After the collision both sides played the blame game.
Peter Hammarstedt, captain of the Bob Barker, which was involved in the incident, said Japan’s whaling vessels had spent hours dragging steel cables across the bows of the Sea Shepherd’s fleet in an attempt to damage their rudders and propellers. During the attack, Hammarstedt claimed that Yushin Maru No. 3 struck the Bob Barker after coming too close to the ship, damaging its bow and anchor.
“It was an unprovoked attack and they did so ruthlessly,” Hammarstedt told The Associated Press by satellite phone.
According to Japan, the Sea Shepherd was at fault.
In a statement to the AP, Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), which sponsors the annual whale hunt, said that protestors aboard two inflatable boats from the Bob Barker had dropped ropes in front of the bow of Yushin Maru, which became tangled in the ship’s propeller. ICR said it was the Bob Barker that then came too close to the Yushin Maru No. 3 and struck its stern, damaging the whaling ship’s hull and railing.
A fisheries agency official confirmed this weekend’s collision, telling AFP: “We have confirmed damages to the Yushin Maru No. 3′s stern and the outer shell. The activists also threw rope at the Yushin Maru No. 1. The rope is now tangled in the ship’s screw.”
He denied Sea Shepherd’s statement that the collision was a coordinated attack by the Japanese whaling fleet.
“That is totally unthinkable. They may have taken it as an attack just after the Japanese ships sailing before their eyes. But in all reality, they were the ones who threw the rope at the ship.”
Last February, during the 2013 whaling season, a clash occurred between Japan’s Nisshin Maru and at least four of Sea Shepherd’s vessels.
At the time of that incident, Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), said on his Facebook page that Japan’s whaling ship “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.”
Confrontations of this kind have been quite common between the Japanese and Sea Shepherd.
A 2010 collision resulted in the sinking of Sea Shepherd’s speedboat Ady Gil.
Sea Shepherd has sent out three ships this year – the Bob Barker, the Steve Irwin and the Sam Simon – to protest the annual whaling season. This is Sea Shepherd’s 10th annual campaign to disrupt the Japanese fleet.
Australia’s Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has ordered an investigation into this weekend’s collision.
“This must be a message to both parties — whalers and protesters: These are dangerous waters, nobody can play any games with safety, nobody can play any games with international maritime law,” Hunt said, according to the AP.
A ban on all whaling was implemented in 1986. However, Japan became an exception to this rule, being allowed to hunt the marine mammals for scientific research. Critics say the program is a cover up for commercial whaling, alleging that the meat is sold for food rather than being studied.
Australia last year went to the UN’s highest court in a bid to ban Japan’s whaling activities for good. Japan stands by its whaling activities, maintaining that the annual hunt produces valuable scientific data. The International Court of Justice is expected to rule on the matter later this year.