"We have gone as long as we dare to go," said Captain Paul Watson. "We have just enough fuel to reach Melbourne so reluctantly we have to end the pursuit of the Japanese whale poachers for now."
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ship Steve Irwin has changed course northeast to Melbourne. The Fukuyoshi Maru No. 68 continues to trail behind and continues to inform the Japanese fleet of the Steve Irwin's position.
"It has been one hell of a chase. We have covered 6,000 nautical miles going from Melbourne halfway to Africa, back again to the Ross Sea, and then back to the area southwest of Fremantle before being forced to return northwest to Melbourne," said Sea Shepherd's Executive Director Kim McCoy who is also onboard the Steve Irwin.
With the Greenpeace ship Esperanza tailing the factory ship Nisshin Maru and the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin chasing the harpoon vessels, not a single whale was slain from January 8th through January 30th. Japanese whaling was effectively shut down for three weeks.
The Japanese fleet is estimated to have used over 2,000 tons of fuel in that time which represents a cost in excess of two million dollars without profiting from one slaughtered whale. In addition, the issue of illegal Japanese whaling has finally become a controversial story in Japan itself. There is now discussion amongst some Japanese people that this insignificant industry is not worth the international condemnation Japan is receiving.
"We have found the key to stopping the slaughter of the whales," said Captain Watson. "We need to keep the whalers on the run from the beginning of the whaling season until the end. I am going to work to secure a second ship by the end of the year. We need to send out two ships, the second to depart three weeks after the first and then the first to return three weeks later to relieve the second. We have the will to make this happen, we just need to find the way to make it happen."
Captain Watson said that he is willing to return this season with the Steve Irwin if there is sponsorship for a full load of fuel. The Steve Irwin also needs repairs done to one of its main engines and the ship needs some replacement crew.
"We would like to return this season, if we can get the support to return," said Steve Irwin's 2nd Officer Peter Hammarstedt.
The Sea Shepherd crew expect that whaling will resume within days without conservationists to hound their every move. The presence of the Australian government ship Oceanic Viking is not expected to deter Japan from violating the ruling of the Australian courts barring Japan from killing whales in the Australian Antarctic Territorial Economic Exclusion Zone.