On December 20th, 2008, the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin intercepted the Japanese harpoon vessel Yushin Maru #2 in heavy fog and ice conditions. The ship was intercepted at 65 Degrees 38 Minutes South and 141 Degrees 1 Minute East.
The Japanese harpoon ship fled northward into heavy ice. The Steve Irwin did not pursue, electing to avoid storm conditions that threatened to push the floes tighter together. It took the Steve Irwin two days to work its way out of the dense ice. The Yushin Maru #2 had moved into much more hazardous ice conditions to the North.
"They only had two choices," said Captain Paul Watson. "They could have gone South with the Steve Irwin into the lighter ice or they could have gone North to avoid the Steve Irwin into the thicker ice floes. They chose the more dangerous route and it looks like they suffered damage for that decision."
The crew of the Steve Irwin did not see the Yushin Maru #2 again with the whaling fleet. The whaling ship is now reported to be in the port of Suryabaya in East Java where it arrived on January 5th for repairs.
Sea Shepherd has been unable to confirm that the damage was caused by ice but believes that is the reason the ship had to return for repairs. Japanese whaling vessels are banned from entry into Australian and New Zealand ports because of their illegal whaling activities in the Southern Ocean. This has forced the Japanese to go as far north as Indonesia for repairs.
The Yushin Maru #2 is expected to leave Suryabaya on January 16th, the day that the Steve Irwin is expected to arrive in Hobart, Tasmania. Once refueled, the Steve Irwin will be able to return to the Japanese whaling fleet before the Yushin Maru #2. Hobart is much closer to the whaling area than Suryabaya.
This means that the Yushin Maru #2 has been forced out of the whaling hunt for some 40 days and this will have a serious impact on the number of whales the whaling fleet will be able to take during the absence of the Steve Irwin.
Media reports from Japan have indicated that the missing Japanese crewmember who fell overboard the night of January 5th was a suicide.