The Issue of Safety at Sea
Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
The recent documents released by Wikileaks raised the issue of safety at sea by the U.S. Department of State. This also echoes Australia and New Zealand’s “concerns” about safety at sea. But what does it mean? Basically it’s code for, “we need to do something to shut down Sea Shepherd’s persistent obstruction of Japanese whaling operations.”
The warnings are almost always directed at Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, although Sea Shepherd has not rammed or cut any Japanese whaling vessels in half, as they did to the Ady Gil in 2010. Japan, in their obsession to destroy Sea Shepherd, is constantly citing “dangerous actions” by Sea Shepherd against their whaling operations. Without fail each year, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) brings up the issue of safety at sea despite the fact that the IWC has no jurisdiction, authority, or expertise regarding this issue.
Japan maintains that Sea Shepherd’s activities pose a threat to the safety of the Japanese whalers. The IWC is only given Japan’s version of events, while Sea Shepherd is not allowed to present any evidence or to even make a statement. Japan should be paying more attention to their own safety record instead of focusing on the activities of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The facts however, speak for themselves.
Sea Shepherd has mounted seven voyages to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. During five of these voyages totaling 27 months at sea in waters from the Ross Sea to south of South Africa, Sea Shepherd’s ships the Farley Mowat, Robert Hunter, Steve Irwin, Bob Barker and Gojira have displayed an unblemished safety record. The Ady Gil was never a Sea Shepherd owned vessel. It was owned by Ady Gil and skippered by Peter Bethune.
The Japanese fleet has demonstrated an appalling safety record. Whereas Sea Shepherd has not suffered a single fatality, the whaling fleet has seen the death of three seamen since 2006. Whereas Sea Shepherd’s crew onboard the ships have not suffered any serious injuries, the whaling fleet has reported numerous injuries onboard their ships. Whereas Sea Shepherd’s ships have not experienced a single onboard fire, the whaling fleet has experienced two major devastating fires onboard the Nisshin Maru. Whereas Sea Shepherd’s ships have not suffered from any ice damage, the Yushin Maru #2 harpoon vessel was forced to go to Indonesia for repairs to its propeller in 2009. None of the above events were in any way related to or the result of any actions taken by Sea Shepherd; they occurred during the regular course of operations onboard the Japanese whaling vessels.
During confrontation, the Japanese whalers display no hesitation in targeting Sea Shepherd’s crewmembers to cause bodily harm. They know that if they inflict death or injury to any of Sea Shepherd’s crew, the government of Japan will defend and justify their actions. The deliberate ramming of the Ady Gil saw the captain of the Shonan Maru #2 not even questioned for his negligence or deliberate destruction of the vessel or the danger inflicted to its crew.
On the other hand, Sea Shepherd’s crew must, and chooses to, exercise every safety precaution to avoid causing even the most minor of injuries. As a result of these precautions, the number of Sea Shepherd crewmembers that have sustained minor injuries during these confrontations has been six, whereas there have been no whalers who have sustained only minor injuries.
Sea Shepherd’s ships have not deliberately rammed any whaling vessels. Collisions have occurred only when the harpoon vessels have attempted to muscle their way past Sea Shepherd’s blockade of the Nisshin Maru factory ship.
There has not been a single criminal charge or even a reprimand laid against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society during the last five Antarctic voyages. During this same period, the Australian Federal court issued an order to the Japanese whaling fleet to cease and desist from whaling in the Australian Antarctic Territorial waters. The Japanese whaling fleet is now in contempt of this order.
The Japanese whaling fleet is targeting endangered and protected whales in an established international whale sanctuary in violation of a global moratorium on commercial whaling and in violation of the Antarctic Treaty, numerous International Whaling Commission regulations, and of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species. Japan continuously states that the IWC has condemned the actions of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. While this is true, the IWC has also condemned the so-called scientific whaling by Japan.
Sea Shepherd is up against one of the most powerful and wealthiest nations on the planet, and in opposition to a criminal industry controlled by the powerful Yakuza clans (Japanese mafia). The very fact that we continue to operate in defiance of Japan’s power is a miracle in it of itself. The Japanese government has engineered the removal of our flags of registry, caused us to be harassed at border points, made threats, and twisted the arms of international governments in their efforts to stop our opposition to their illegal whaling operations.
We have no intention of surrendering to their power or retreating from our opposition of their illegal whaling. We must continue speaking the power of truth, and we will continue to physically oppose the Japanese whaling fleet exercising every precaution to avoid causing injury to the whalers, while exercising required restraint to remain within the boundaries of the law.
One thing’s for sure, the Japanese whaling fleet poses a definite and lethal threat to the endangered whales of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. In addition to taking the lives of three of their own crewmembers, the Japanese whaling fleet is also conducting a mass murder on whales, and that is the greatest and most violent tragedy of them all.