During the evening of January 6th, the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin found the Japanese fleet engaged in searching for a missing crewmember.
Hajime Shirasaki, a 30 year old oiler from the Japanese whale spotting vessel Kyoshin Maru No. 2 had disappeared the night before and was presumed lost.
Decency and traditional courtesy at sea require that in situations of distress that mariners come to the aid of one another. Aside from the Japanese whaling fleet, the Steve Irwin was the only other vessel in the area where the missing seaman fell overboard and it was the only vessel with a helicopter.
Captain Paul Watson reported that there was no distress signal issued by the whalers but that he had contacted New Zealand Search and Rescue to report that the crew of the Steve Irwin was offering assistance to the Japanese whaling fleet in their efforts to recover the body of the missing seaman.
The Steve Irwin notified the Japanese fleet by marine VHF radio in English and in Japanese that they were there to provide assistance and especially to provide a helicopter search of the area. The Yushin Maru #3 replied in Japanese that they did not want any help from an "eco-terrorist" organization.
Captain Watson specifically relayed the message that the Steve Irwin was not there to harass but to assist in the search and had no intention of continuing to oppose illegal Japanese whaling activities until the search was called off. The allegations of the Japanese whaling fleet that Sea Shepherd intentionally disrupted their search efforts and harassed them during the search efforts are false, unfair and extremely rude.
The allegation that the Steve Irwin was running without navigational lights is false. The Steve Irwin also maintained a very safe distance between the whaling vessels and themselves at all times during this time. The documentary crew on the Steve Irwin has audio tapes of the communications between the Steve Irwin and the Japanese vessels and between the Steve Irwin and New Zealand Search and Rescue. After the Japanese whaling fleet refused assistance, the Steve Irwin moved out of the search area and was followed for twelve hours by the harpoon vessel Yushin Maru #3.
Although the Japanese whaling fleet is barred from entering Australian and New Zealand ports because of their illegal whaling activities they have demanded that Australia and New Zealand close their ports to Sea Shepherd. During five voyages to the Southern Ocean to protect whales, the Sea Shepherd crews have not caused a single injury, damaged any property nor have any criminal charges been filed in response to conservation anti-poaching efforts.
The Japanese whaling fleet is targeting endangered whales in an established international whale sanctuary in violation of a global moratorium on commercial whaling and in contempt of an Australian Federal Court order prohibiting whaling in the territorial waters of the Australian Antarctic Territory.
"The whalers are acting very dishonourably," said Captain Paul Watson. "They are using every opportunity to demonize us by making unsubstantiated accusations. They continually call us terrorists yet we have never injured anyone, damaged their property nor have we been charged with a crime. They have handed their honour over to disreputable public relations agents who have no scruples about spinning the facts to justify their cruel enterprise in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary."
The Steve Irwin is presently en route back to Hobart in Tasmania to refuel before returning to the Southern Ocean to resume efforts to defend the whales from illegal Japanese whaling activities.
The Steve Irwin offers assistance to the Japanese fleet
by marine VHF radio in English and in Japanese