February 9th, 2009, 10:00 Hours (Sydney, Australia Time)
February 8th, 2009, 15:00 Hours (PST)
The Sea Shepherd ship the Steve Irwin and her crew have withdrawn from the Japanese whaling fleet to begin preparations to return with a faster and longer range ship.
"I have always said that we would do everything we can short of hurting people to end illegal whaling in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary," said Captain Paul Watson. "We have done everything we could with the resources available to us this year. We have shut down their illegal operations for over a month in total. We have cost them money and we have saved the lives of a good many whales. And although we are willing to take the risks required, even to our own lives, I am not prepared to do to the Japanese whalers what they do to the whales and the escalating violence by the whalers will result in some serious injuries and possibly fatalities if this confrontation continues to escalate."
Captain Watson said that he has been operating at a disadvantage against three harpoon boats that are superior in speed and maneuverability to the Steve Irwin.
"We need to block those deadly harpoons and we need to outrun these hunter killer ships and to do that I need a ship that is as fast as they are and I intend to get one and I intend to return next year," he said. "We will never stop intervening against their illegal whaling operations and we will never stop harassing them, blockading them and costing them money. I intend to be their on-going nightmare every year until they stop their horrific and unlawful slaughter of the great whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary."
This year the crew of the Steve Irwin pursued the Japanese fleet from December 18th until January 7th for over 2,000 miles, shutting down their operations for a month. The crew returned and relocated the fleet on February 1st and pursued them for another 9 days during which time the whalers were only able to kill five whales. A pursuit of the Yushin Maru No.2 by the Steve Irwin on December 20th caused ice damage to the prop of the whaling ship and forced them out of operation for a month and a half. The harpoon vessel was denied repairs in Indonesia much to the embarrassment of Japan.
Confrontations between the Steve Irwin and the whaling fleet have resulted in numerous close calls and two collisions causing minor damage. The whaling fleet this year deployed Long Range Acoustical Devices (LRAD's) and high powered water cannons against the Sea Shepherd crew. No whalers were injured. Three members of the Steve Irwin's crew were injured with one man requiring five stitches above his left eye after being hit by a blast from the LRAD and knocked over.
Captain Paul Watson is dismissive of Japanese accusations that Sea Shepherd deliberately rammed their whaling ships.
"The whalers and their hired PR flunkies can say whatever they want now but we have over 1,000 hours of video footage documenting every moment of the campaign. Our story will be told on a weekly series on Animal Planet with the show Whale Wars. People can watch and judge for themselves. The camera is the most powerful weapon in the world and we intend to demonstrate that power."
On January 31st, the Japanese government dispatched a security vessel called the Taiyo Maru #38 from Fiji to intercept the Steve Irwin. The ship is believed to be carrying a special boarding unit and has orders to seize the ship and all video evidence, according to a source in Fiji. The ship is expected to arrive in the Ross Sea within days.
"We cannot allow this documentation to be captured by Japan," said Captain Watson.
The Steve Irwin will be returning to Australia and is expected to arrive within the next two weeks. The ship had only another four days of fuel reserves to remain with the fleet before being forced to return anyway.
"Another four days is simply not worth getting someone killed," said Captain Watson. "We are down here because we respect the sanctity of life. The whalers are down here to illegally destroy life. People can choose to side with life or with death, between the whalers and the whale defenders, and we have chosen to defend life, and for those who condemn us for what we are doing, all I can say is that we are not down here for them. We're down here for the whales."