January 26, 2011

Whaling Activists Track Down Factory Ship

Militant activists fighting against Japan's Southern Ocean whaling campaign said on Wednesday that they had tracked down and were chasing a factory ship key to the Antarctic harpoon mission.

A vessel from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society found the Nisshin Maru late Tuesday in the ice of the Ross Sea after a 26-day pursuit covering 4,000 nautical miles.

"We found it yesterday and it had just started whaling again, so we know they killed one whale," activist Captain Paul Watson told AFP by satellite phone.

"But they're now running from us and running full speed so they're not whaling today, that's for sure."

He said Sea Shepherd used weather balloons fitted with radar to zero in on the "serial killing death ship," which slipped away from the activists when they first found the Japanese fleet on December 31.

AFP reported that Japan's fisheries agency said the activists had dispatched a "helicopter to chase our ships" but that there were no reports of damage or injury as a result of their activities.

"We cannot comment on whether their activities are actually affecting our work," said fisheries spokesman Shigeki Takaya.

"We have no change in our plan. We are going to pursue it as scheduled."

Watson said while searching for the Nisshin Maru that his boats were followed by two of the three Japanese harpoon ships, which prevented them from spearing whales for over three weeks.

He said that Sea Shepherd also found the fleet's refueling and supply ship, the South Korean-owned Sun Laurel.

"This has been our most successful year so far. We found the whaling fleet before it even begun to kill whales and I don't think they've taken very many whales at all," Watson told AFP.

"We've had two of their three harpoon vessels tied up since December 31st, they're low on fuel and we intercepted and cut off their supply vessel, so I think they're going to be looking at a big loss."

He said the Steve Irwin, one of Watson's ships, was now positioned behind the Nisshin Maru's slipway, blocking them from loading whales.

"That can shut down their entire operation," Watson said.

Japan has killed hundreds of whales a year under a loophole in the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling that allows "lethal research," but makes no secret of the fact that the meat ends up on dinner tables.

Anti-whaling nations and environmental groups have long criticized the hunts, describing them as cruel and unnecessary.

Canberra is currently fighting Japan's whaling program in the International Court of Justice, seeking for it to be declared illegal.

The Southern Ocean clashes between Sea Shepherd and the Japanese came to a dramatic head last year when the activists' futuristic Ady Gil powerboat sank after a collision with the harpooners

Pete Bethune, the vessel's New Zealand captain, spent five months in a Japanese prison and was ultimately given a two-year suspended sentence after sneaking aboard one of the harpoon ships one night to protest the crash.

Rancid butter-bombs, acoustic weapons and water cannons were used in the 2010 campaign, prompting the U.S., Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand to issue a joint statement calling for calm ahead of the 2011 season.


Image Caption: The Nisshin Maru as seen from the Nancy Burnet helicopter. Credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society


On the Net: