Captain Paul Watson made the decision to stay in the Southern Oceans for as long as possible in order to continue to chase the illegal Japanese whaling fleet across the bottom of the world. After a 4,000 kilometer chase, the Farley Mowat had reached its limit. Still, Captain Watson decided to push it further and made arrangements to refuel from a tanker scheduled to supply a fishing fleet near the French Kergulen Islands.
Knowing this, the Farley Mowat pushed on for another two days in the knowledge that the tanker rendezvous, four days away would allow an extension of operations.
It was somewhat of a shock when the South African company supplying the tanker informed Captain Watson that due to extreme weather conditions, the tanker rendezvous had been cancelled.
"At that point, there was no choice," said Captain Watson. "We were 2600 miles from the nearest port and that port was Cape Town. We had to drop out of the chase and make for South Africa. We had no safety margin, in fact, we were short of fuel. The figures were ominous. Our chase suddenly became a race to survive."
The ship's boiler was shut down and the heating was turned off. The Farley Mowat crew had to conserve every liter of diesel fuel. The ship uses 2.5 tons of fuel per day. Chief Engineer Trevor Van Der Gulik pumped every drop of fuel from every tank into one central tank and the engine room crew kept a constant watch on the reserve.
Not wanting to panic anyone ashore, Captain Watson said nothing publicly about the real possibility of running out of fuel at sea. "We knew we could make it to within 800 miles of Cape Town," he said. "We knew that we could always send for help if we got that close, although the threat of bad weather and heavy seas and no fuel was not a pleasant thought."
The conservation measures paid off and the weather conditions were severe, but not severe enough to slow the ship down below the margin of safety.
The Farley Mowat is now 800 miles from Cape Town. The weather forecast is good and the fuel reserves should hold out to allow the vessel to reach the port.
"We have just completed the longest voyage that this ship has made in its entire 48-year career," said 1st Officer Alex Cornelissen.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will return to the Southern Ocean next year with a faster vessel to confront the Japanese whaling fleet. The Farley Mowat may also return to Antarctica as a secondary confrontation vessel.