After heading eastward at full speed for 2,000 miles, and just before entering Drake's Passage into the Southern Ocean, the illegal Japanese whaling factory ship the Nisshin Maru recently made a complete u-turn and is now heading due west back the way it has travelled over the last week. First Officer Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden, onboard the Bob Barker following the Nisshin Maru, reported that the whale poachers acted suddenly once they reached the position of 64 degrees 4 minutes south and 074 degrees 10 minutes west at 1700 (GMT). The whalers also decreased their speed and are heading westward at 11 knots, down from a speed of 14 knots they were traveling as they headed east.
The turnabout could mean one of two things. First, they may be on a great circle route back to Japan, or second, they may be returning to the whaling grounds in the Ross Sea where the three Japanese harpoon vessels may be waiting to continue their illegal slaughter.
Reports from Japan that the Japanese Fisheries Agency has suspended the hunt have not specified how long this suspension will last. It could be permanent, for the season, for two weeks, or only a few days. The three Sea Shepherd ships Steve Irwin, Bob Barker, and Gojira will remain in the Southern Ocean until the whaling vessels depart.
"The Japanese Fisheries Agency had no choice but to suspend whaling operations. Sea Shepherd had already enforced a suspension of operations by blocking all whaling operations since February 9th and blocking 75% of all whaling operations for the month of January," said Captain Paul Watson "We will not allow the Japanese whalers to kill another whale down here in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary."
Captain Alex Cornelissen of the Bob Barker is in contact with the Chilean Navy to report the movements of the whaling ship to Chile. The Chilean government is closely monitoring the movements of the Nisshin Maru, and has made it clear to the Japanese whalers that whaling and the transportation of whale meat through Chilean waters is illegal. For now, the Steve Irwin and the Gojira will remain in the Ross Sea to await the movements of the whalers.