February 1, 2006

Greenpeace Shifts Focus to Pirate Fishing

By Gordon Bell

CAPE TOWN -- Greenpeace activists will shift their focus to protest against pirate fishing off Africa's west coast following two months battling Japanese whalers, the group said on Wednesday.

The activist group's two ships limped into Cape Town on Wednesday, the crew exhausted and starving, after spending 73 days in the icy, gray Southern Ocean to protest against whale hunting when they say the whales suffer a gruesome death.

Greenpeace said it now planned to expose illegal fishing as part of a year-long campaign to save the world's oceans.

"The situation with the whales is not unique," said Mike Townsley, communications director for the organization.

"Over 90 percent of the world's big fish are now gone and the world's most sophisticated and largest fleets are fighting over smaller and smaller fish stocks," he told reporters.

The Arctic Sunrise and Esperanza will set sail for the seas off Africa's west coast -- after a month break for repairs and re-stocking -- to confront the pirate fishing ships.

By some estimates around 75 percent of the world's fisheries have been fished to their limits and west Africa's coast is seen as a target for pirates as the region's countries have few resources to protect marine life or enforce regulations at sea.

Greenpeace also intends to move its anti-whaling campaign from the Antarctic seas to the shopfloor. It will target companies its says profit from whale deaths and will urge customers to boycott those companies' products.

The six-ship Japanese fleet has been in the Southern Ocean, a whale sanctuary, since December to meet its quota of about 900 minke whales -- double last season's catch. Norway and Iceland also hunt whales.

Japan abandoned commercial whaling in 1986, in line with an international moratorium, but began catching whales again the next year for what it says is scientific research. Critics say the meat still ends up in fish markets and restaurant plates.

Greenpeace expedition leader Shane Rattenbury said activists had succeeded in disrupting the hunt.

"I think the whaling fleet would prefer that they would able to go about their dirty business in secret. This has captured the images of what is actually happening down there."

The smaller Arctic Sunrise survived a collision with a Japanese vessel eight times its size and an activist was flung into the freezing sea when the line attached to a harpoon fell across his inflatable boast. He was picked up unharmed.

Rattenbury said the crew witnessed 123 minke whales die.

"The fleet was very ruthless in their hunting process, we saw a lot of whales suffer a terrible death," he said.

"In the very worst occasions we saw the whales still alive when they were tied to the side of the hunting boat and they actually ended up drowning, so they died the most inhumane and cruel deaths one can imagine." The hunting season ends in March.