After 18 days of chasing and preventing the illegal Japanese whaling fleet from killing any whales, the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin broke off to return to Hobart, Tasmania. They are scheduled to arrive on March 6th. "We have reached our limit on fuel reserves," said Captain Paul Watson, "We have no choice but to return. We have just enough fuel to get home."
With the Steve Irwin dropping out of the chase, the Japanese whaling fleet still has a problem. The Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker has sufficient fuel to continue chasing the whaling fleet for most of the remaining days in the season. The Bob Barker is presently pursuing the Nisshin Maru through ice packs heading into the Cooperation Sea. Sea Shepherd is assuming that the three harpoon vessels of the fleet are waiting to the South for the factory ship to rejoin them. "Each day we prevent the killing of a whale is a victory for us," said Captain Chuck Swift of the Bob Barker, "My crew are committed to staying down here as long as possible to block their illegal whaling operations. They don't have much time left and with that time left, they will see the Bob Barker on their tail defending the whales."
The Institute for Cetacean Research in Japan is reporting that Togo has stripped the Bob Barker of the Togo flag. "If it is true, then it is interesting that Japan has been informed but Sea Shepherd has not. That indicates that Japan put pressure on Togo to remove the flag," said Captain Paul Watson, "We did expect to lose the flag because Togo is one of Japan's puppet nations selling their vote to the Japanese at the International Whaling Commission. We registered the ship purposely in Togo for the purpose of exposing the Japanese imperialistic relationship to Togo. We got the flag from Togo the same way that Japan got Togo's vote."
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society had already begun the process of reflagging the Bob Barker in anticipation of Togo removing the flag. "We've got the Japanese running around the globe trying to deflag our vessels and spinning tall tails about our "piratical" maneuvers against their fleet of whale poachers," said Captain Paul Watson, "But the story is getting bigger, and every day we expose the truth about the illegalities of Japan's whaling operations in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Most importantly we are cutting their kill quotas and costing them tens of millions of dollars in profits. Our objective is to bankrupt them and I am confident that we will be able to sink them economically." Sea Shepherd's Operation Waltzing Matilda has been our most successful whale defense campaigns yet. Sea Shepherd expects to prevent the killing of more whales this season than on the previous five campaigns.
Captain Peter Bethune continues to be held prisoner on the Japanese vessel Shonan Maru #2 and is being taken back to Japan. He will be the first New Zealand citizen since World War II to be transported as a prisoner from the Southern Ocean to Japan.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society opposes any compromise deal that will allow continued whaling in the Southern Ocean. "The only reason the Japanese are getting offers of compromise is because they are a wealthy powerful nation and that gives special dispensation to poachers from Japan," said Captain Paul Watson, "I can't see the world compromising with elephant poachers in East Africa or bush meat traders in West Africa. African poachers are jailed or shot. Japanese poachers do whatever they like, wherever they like, whenever they like, and the governments of the world step back for fear of offending Japan. It's humiliating, cowardly, and pathetic that the signatory nations to conservation treaties and regulations allow the poachers to call the shots."