Two completely different fleets are making their way towards the Southern Ocean. The Japanese whaling fleet, weaker than ever before, is three weeks late as it steams southward. The three Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ships are stronger than ever before, as they steam southward in advance of the whalers putting them in a position to be in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in time to greet the arriving poachers.
Onboard the three Sea Shepherd ships are 88 crew from 21 different nations all participating in the 7th Sea Shepherd voyage into these remote and hostile waters. This year the tension is higher than ever. The frustration and anger of the Japanese whalers is becoming stronger as their profits are negated and their debt rises. They are on the ropes financially and they know it.
In light of this, four of the nations that are signatory to the Antarctic Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary have issued a joint statement through the United States State Department condemning any action that may threaten safety at sea. We at Sea Shepherd have no problem with this. We haven't sustained any serious injury nor have we caused any injury at sea in 33 years and certainly not in the last six voyages to the Southern Ocean.
What the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society welcomes however is the fact that the statement issued by the four nations clearly condemns the illegal whaling activities of the Japanese whaling fleet. This statement validates and encourages Sea Shepherd intervention during Operation No Compromise this year.
What we would really like to see is these nations directly upholding international conservation law by sending Naval vessels to the Southern Ocean to enforce the protection of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. We often wonder just what it is about the word SANCTUARY that these governments do not seem to understand.
New Zealand said they may send a warship but now they are retracting that suggestion claiming they do not have a vessel in a good enough condition to make the trip down to the Southern Ocean.
The Kiwi's on the Sea Shepherd crew were somewhat embarrassed to hear that considering that a small non-profit like Sea Shepherd with a meager budget can send three ships down to the Sanctuary but the New Zealand Navy can't muster just one to make the same trip.
The presence of a New Zealand and/or an Australian vessel would be a very positive move in that it would represent a mediating influence between the whalers and the anti-whalers and they would be able to document and collect evidence of illegal whaling activities at the same time. Of course it would be nice if they were to simply order the poachers out of the sanctuary but the economic and political reality is that neither Australia nor New Zealand wish to antagonize Japan too much for fear of upsetting trade relations.
Both governments are caught in a dilemma. The people of Australia and New Zealand are passionately opposed to whaling, and especially whaling in the Southern Ocean, but the two governments pay only lip service to this passion and concern.
New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully acts more like the foreign minister for Japan than for New Zealand. He has yet to meet with any representative of Sea Shepherd but he certainly keeps an open ear to the concerns of the Japanese. The sole political support from New Zealand and Australia comes from the Green Party from both nations.
Sea Shepherd has the support of the majority of the Australian and New Zealand public, the support of the Aboriginal community in Australia and the support of the Maori in New Zealand. We have the support of the Mayor of Fremantle and the Mayor of Wellington. All that is lacking is the support of the federal governments.
Sea Shepherd is not holding our breath waiting for official government support. And it is not that important anyhow. We have what we need, the support of the people and especially the indigenous people, and it is that support that sustains us for we could not make these annual voyages to the Southern Ocean without this incredible support.
And so we will let the politicians talk, condemn, and play politics as usual.
As for Sea Shepherd, we have some whalers to stop and we intend to aggressively and effectively oppose them while taking into account the need for safety at sea, and responsibility and concern for all lives involved including those of our own crew, the Japanese whalers and most importantly, for our clients - the whales of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
Joint Statement on Whaling and Safety at Sea Governments of Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States Call for Responsible Behavior in the Southern Ocean
The Governments of Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United States jointly condemn any actions that imperil human life in the Southern Ocean. We are deeply concerned that confrontations in the Southern Ocean will eventually lead to injury or loss of life among both whaling crews and protestors, many of whom are nationals of our countries.
We call on the masters of all vessels involved in these actions in the Southern Ocean to take responsibility for ensuring that the safety of human life at sea is their highest priority.
We remain resolute in our opposition to whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, established by the International Whaling Commission, and are disappointed at the recent departure of the Japanese whaling fleet for the Southern Ocean.
Our governments respect the right of individuals and groups to protest peacefully, including on the high seas. At the same time, we condemn dangerous or violent activities from all participants. Any unlawful activity will be dealt with in accordance with relevant international and domestic laws.
The Southern Ocean in particular is a remote and unforgiving environment where the risk of adverse incidents is high and the capacity for search and rescue or other assistance is low. Any accident in this region jeopardizes not only the safety of whaling and protest vessels and their crews but also anyone who comes to their assistance.
We are deeply concerned that an incident in this remote region could end tragically. The collision between an anti-whaling vessel and a Japanese vessel on 6 January 2010 demonstrated clearly the dangers involved.
Our Governments jointly call upon the masters of all vessels involved to strictly observe international collision avoidance regulations. We also draw their attention to the International Maritime Organization's 17 May 2010 resolution on assuring safety during demonstrations, protests, or confrontations on the high seas.
Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United States remain committed to the global moratorium on commercial whaling and meaningful reform of the International Whaling Commission.