We are finally on our way. My ship Steve Irwin and my crew left Brisbane in Queensland, Australia on December 4th. We made a brief stop in Newcastle in New South Wales to take on fuel and oil and departed on December 7th. We will make another brief stop in Hobart in Tasmania to top up the fuel tanks to allow us the maximum range when we head to the Ross Sea to intercept the Japanese whaling fleet.
We are under no illusion that this will be an easy campaign. Japan has budgeted 8 million dollars to oppose our efforts. What this means we have no idea. Will they send a gunboat? We don't know for sure but they have said they will arrest us if we interfere with their illegal whaling operations. How they will do that is unknown. Will they fire on our ship or board our ship? We don't know. We just need to be prepared for all possibilities.
This is a four part campaign. Basically it gets down to "prepare, search, intercept, and stop".
We are prepared. We have improved the ship substantially since the last campaign.
We have a newly constructed helicopter deck and hanger, a completely over-hauled helicopter and in addition to our very experienced ex-military (U.S. Marine) pilot we also have a dedicated helicopter mechanic.
On deck we have a new hydraulic winch and two new fast interceptor boats.
We have three times the safety equipment required including immersion suits, survival suits, lifeboats, and EPIRB's. We also have a medical doctor onboard and officers holding EMT certificates.
We have a master welder, master carpenter, and a crew of very experienced engineers led by our longtime Chief Engineer Charles Hutchings. We have qualified divers, communication techs, and navigators
We also have new tactics, new equipment and new ideas to help us with our mission.
And we have an excellent crew. There are 40 crew presently, plus a camera crew from Animal Planet to shoot the 2nd season of Whale Wars. A third of the crew is Australian and a third American with the remaining third composed of citizens from Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Bermuda, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, Hungary and Japan.
A third of the crew are women and half of the crew are returning veterans.
Upon leaving Hobart, we will begin the 2nd phase of the campaign - the search. This year the Japanese whaling fleet is operating in the Ross Sea and that is where we will be heading. It's a long haul to get there and once there it's a vast area to search but we will scour those remote frozen seas until we find them and once we do we will intercept them and hopefully before they kill too many whales.
There are quite a few differences between this campaign and our previous four voyages to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
This year we will be very much alone down there.
The new Australian government of Kevin Rudd and Peter Garrett has reneged on their election promises and they will not have any ships in the Southern Ocean. In fact the Australian Navy has been ordered into port - practically all of their ships and their officers and crew have been sent home for a two month vacation. There is not a single Australian government ship patrolling the Australian Antarctic Territorial waters despite the fact that the Japanese whaling fleet has been killing whales in direct contempt of an Australian Federal Court ruling specifically forbidding the killing of whales in waters over which Australia has declared sovereignty.
Greenpeace will not be down in the Southern Ocean, despite raising millions of dollars for that express purpose. They have backed out primarily because they do not want to be associated with Sea Shepherd actions. Their excuse is that they need to address the trial of two of their Japanese activists. Greenpeace has the funding to do both and they certainly have the ships. The truth is that they have surrendered the Southern Oceans to the Japanese whaling fleet. They no longer have the stomach for confrontation.
The key to success with the Japanese whalers is persistence. We must never retreat or surrender the Southern Ocean Sanctuary to them. We must continue to undermine their profits and we must continue to expose their illegal activities to the world.
We must do this no matter what obstacles they throw up before us, no matter how violent they become, no matter what political, media and economic pressure they direct at us.
They can call us all the names in the world but they cannot deny the reality that they are targeting threatened and endangered whales in an established whale sanctuary in violation of the international moratorium on commercial whaling and in contempt of the Australian courts.
Sea Shepherd on the other hand has not, and is not violating international law. We have not injured anyone and we have not been charged with any crime. We are acting in accordance with the principles established in the United Nations World Charter for Nature by working to uphold and enforce international conservation law.
I have called this year's campaign - Operation Musashi. This is in recognition of Miyamoto Musashi, who is to the Japanese what Robin Hood, Ned Kelly and Jesse James are to the British, the Australians and the Americans.
Aside from being an outlaw, Musashi was also a master strategist. I have incorporated his strategy of a twofold way of pen and sword which means the approaching of the problem through confrontation and communication or education.
Our physical interventions to stop the killing of whales is the sword, and our participation in the television series Whale Wars is the pen.
And we also carry the most effective weapon ever designed - the camera.
What will happen this year?
It is hard to predict with certainty? Will we find the fleet? I am confident that we will. Will they react more violently this year than last year? We suspect that they will. Will we prevent them from killing whales? I am confident that we will be able to do so.
But as Musashi once observed with regard to strategy, we need to proceed towards the whaling fleet with absolute resolve, with courage and determination, focusing on the goal of saving the lives of as many whales as possible, undeterred by threats or physical violence, unconcerned with the consequences, prepared and cautious yet committed to a policy of no retreat and no surrender. We need to understand that when we say we are willing to risk our lives for the whales that it is not a meaningless slogan on a banner to us - it is what we do. We need to demonstrate to the world that there are human beings willing to risk all to protect diversity and the right of other species to live unmolested by the rapacious greed of humankind. We fight not just for the whales in those remote southern waters - we fight for the diversity of life and thus the future of our own kind upon this planet.
It will be a dramatic campaign and I will direct all my energies into ensuring that it will be an effective campaign and that the lives of whales will be saved.
I cannot tell you in words just how wonderful it is to have intervened for the whales in the seasons past. To know that at this moment, there are whales swimming freely in those lonely waters that would now be dead if not for our interventions. To know that so many baby whales have been brought into being because we were able to force the whalers to spare their mothers is a source of great happiness for me. I feel them out there, so alive and so aware, in those dark and cold waters and it is this connection that calms my soul with the purring hum of contentment in my heart. In truth to die in defense of life is the most honourable death I can think of and thus there can be no fear - only enlightenment and contentment.
And so it is southward that our bow is pointed and it is two thousand miles to the south amongst the ice bergs in the remote frozen south polar seas that we will once again skirmish with the killers of the gentle giants of the sea.
And for their sake and for the sake of our children we will prevail and we will drive these vicious killers from the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and thus we will restore the integrity of the Sanctuary in a world where governments seem to have lost the meaning of the word "sanctuary."
And so for the whales we sail on towards what I believe will be our most aggressive and most effective confrontation with the Japanese whalers ever.
Captain Paul Watson
Master of the Steve Irwin
Fonder and President - The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society