By Captain Paul Watson on board the Steve Irwin
The day after Christmas started out very disappointedly. The Japanese whaling fleet had to be close by but the dense fog would not let up and the helicopter could not fly. There was thick ice to the South and growlers lying in wait all around us, threatening to ambush us in that ghostly whitish mist.
I decided to just shut down the engines and wait until we could launch the helicopter to monitor the fleet. All day that blasted fog hung around us like a Chinese funeral shroud as the ship rolled gently on the slight swells. Just after dinner, I received a call from the bridge to the mess asking for my presence topside.
There was a ship on the radar moving slowly only a few miles away. Peter Brown's watch had been tracking it. It was indeed a ship and its erratic movements and being where we were, we knew it was one of the ship's from the Japanese fleet. But which one?
We knew they had not seen us. To them, we were just an iceberg in the fog.
I ordered both engines to be started and the boat crews to prepare both the Gemini and the Delta. As we waited for the engines to be prepared for starting, the ship moved within two miles of us. The boats were being prepared when Bosun Dan Bebawi informed me that the radar in the Gemini was not working. I was a little annoyed that this had not been brought to my attention earlier. I had no choice but to abort the launching of the small boats. I could not send a crew out in a small boat in this fog without radar.
We would have to go after them with the ship. They were now three miles away.
With both engines started we got underway and I took the wheel to navigate the vessel around the hundreds of growlers between us and the target. Every one of those chunks of deadly hard ice could be our undoing. They may as well have been mines. It was tricky maneuvering through that maze of ice at top speed but we were gaining on them and we could tell by their erratic course and fluctuating speed that they were cautiously working their way through ice ahead of us. The gap slowly closed. With less than a mile to go, they had to see us on their radar by now. Mal Holland kept me updated with their range and speed. 1st Officer Peter Brown kept his hands on the controls to react quickly if we needed to stop or slow down. Jane Taylor tracked the pursuit on the nautical chart and monitored the 2nd radar.
Up on the bow, some of the crew were peering ahead through the milky soup to get a first glance at the mystery ship. By now I had determined it was not the Nisshin Maru. A ship the size of the factory vessel would not be steering such a zig zag course through this ice. It was either a harpoon boat or a spotter vessel. Slowly we inched out way closer coming dangerously near to bobbing bluish white growlers on the surface.
And then in front of us the white hull slowly materialized in the mist. Damn, it was one of the two spotters - the Kaiko Maru, the very same ship we had stopped and collided with back in 2006 in the Ross Sea.
There was not a soul on the decks. Just one man on the flying bridge staring straight ahead. We were alongside and half a length of the ship away when he turned and saw us. We were close enough to see his eyes widen as he stumbled out of his chair and scrambled below to the wheelhouse. We must have been a terrifying sight. A sleek black raider suddenly appearing out of nowhere, framed in fog and both ships running full out through a minefield of growlers.
As soon as the man disappeared below decks, my crew threw a barrage of rotten butter bombs and bottles of slippery methyl cellulose mixed with indelible dye onto their decks. Twenty-five direct hits leaving the ship a slippery stinky mess. As we came along her starboard side, the Kaiko Maru suddenly steered into us and the suction between the two ships began to pull us towards her. I quickly pulled away but I had to pivot my stern off her starboard aft area and the two ships touched lightly without any significant damage. They lost some paint and we had a crushed helix-deck railing.
Jeff Hansen, an Australian citizen from Perth, Western Australia then ordered the ship to leave from the Australian Territorial Waters and informed them that they were operating in contempt of an Australian Federal Court order that specifically prohibits whaling in the Australian zone. The message was relayed in Japanese over the VHF radio by our Japanese interpreter.
We knew that the spotter would relay our position to the Nisshin Maru and although they knew we were chasing them, they did not know exactly just where we were until now.
I decided to not linger with the Kaiko Maru and to cut off our action quickly to get away from them while they were still surprised and intimidated. If the spotter was ordered to tail us, that would hinder us in closing on the factory ship. Our real objective is the Nisshin Maru and our present objective is to chase the entire Japanese fleet out of the waters of the Australian Antarctic Territory.
We have been on the tail of the Japanese fleet for exactly one week and we have had two skirmishes with the whalers so far, first with the harpoon vessel Yushin Maru #2 and the last with the spotter vessel Kaiko Maru. The fleet is moving towards the East and out of Australian waters. I don't think there is any question but that we have disrupted their activities in these waters.
The predictable media interviews from Japan began to come in a few hours later with the whalers accusing Sea Shepherd of a terrorist attack with acid. Technically rotten butter is butyric acid just as orange juice is citric acid. The truth of the matter is that beer is more acidic than rotten butter. But the whalers pay their public relations whores like Glenn Inwood in New Zealand good money to put these kinds of spins on the story. I simply told the Japanese media that the real eco-terrorists were the Japanese whalers down here in a whale sanctuary inflicting pain and death onto endangered and protected whales in violation of a global moratorium on whaling and in complete contempt of an Australian Federal Court ruling.
The Japanese fleet continues to run and we continue to pursue. Eastward along the coast of Antarctica we remain hot on the tail of this fleet of killers and eco-criminals and we will continue to pursue them for as long as our resources of fuel permit us to do so.