|Wednesday, February 14, 2007|
Sea Shepherd Begins Return from Antarctica
Australia and New Zealand: February 15, 2007
The Sea Shepherd ships Farley Mowat and Robert Hunter were forced to call off their pursuit of the Japanese whaling fleet today. Both ships are returning to Melbourne, Australia.
The Farley Mowat has 8.5 days of fuel left and is eight days from Melbourne.
The Robert Hunter must return to Melbourne by February 19, to comply with an order by the British Registrar of Shipping. The ship will lose its British flag after Japan demanded that the U.K. strip the flag from the vessel. The order to terminate the registration was received three weeks before the Robert Hunter arrived off the coast of Antarctica.
Before departing, the Sea Shepherd ships relayed the coordinates of the Japanese fleet to the Greenpeace ship Esperanza. Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson has been sending updated coordinates to the Esperanza since the first sighting of the Japanese fleet on February 9. The Farley Mowat met up with the Esperanza on the evening of February 12, but the Esperanza refused to answer VHF radios calls.
The crews of the Sea Shepherd ships have referred to this year's campaign as the Impossible Mission.
In February of 2006, when the Farley Mowat returned from confronting the Japanese fleet in Antarctica, the ship was arrested and detained by the South African government. Sea Shepherd knew that in order to make a difference next time, a faster ship would be needed.
Captain Paul Watson set out to find that faster ship while Captain Alex Cornelissen focused on the problem of getting the Farley Mowat out of Cape Town.
Captain Cornelissen frustrated with South African bureaucracy and corruption, made a daring escape from Cape Town in May, slipping out of the harbor in the dark behind an outgoing freighter. He and his crew eluded the South African Navy and made a very rough crossing to Fremantle, Australia, where the people welcomed the Farley Mowat. He then moved the Farley Mowat to Melbourne and offloaded the helicopter for a complete renovation. While enroute to Fremantle, the Canadian government had the Canadian registry of the Farley Mowat revoked at the request of Japan.
Meanwhile, Captain Watson searched the globe for the right ship, finding and inspecting vessels in Malta, Trinidad, and Belgium before deciding on the purchase of the Scottish fisheries patrol vessel, Westra, purchased in late October and renamed the Robert Hunter.
Captain Watson then returned to Melbourne to take command of the Farley Mowat with Captain Alex Cornelissen assuming command of the Robert Hunter in Scotland.
The Robert Hunter departed from Scotland in early December and made the long voyage down the middle of the North and South Atlantic to Puntarenas in the Straits of Magellan to refuel in early January before departing for the Ross Sea.
Back in Melbourne, Captain Watson had the task of re-registering the Farley Mowat. He had the ship surveyed for the British flag, but after an expensive survey and registration, Britain refused the registry on the day it was to be issued. Captain Watson asked a Sea Shepherd supporter who lives in Belize to register the ship in Belize. The Belize flag was issued on December 19th, allowing the Farley Mowat to depart on December 20th for Hobart to pick up the helicopter.
The Farley Mowat departed from Hobart on December 29 just hours before Belize ordered the registration revoked at the request of Japan.
The flagless Farley Mowat then proceeded to the Ross Sea to begin the hunt for the Japanese whaling fleet.
The Farley Mowat and the Robert Hunter both met up in the Ross Sea on January 19. The crews of both ships then constructed a steel helicopter deck on the Robert Hunter in two and a half days to allow the helicopter Kookaburra to work between both ships. On January 22, both ships began a search pattern through the Ross Sea.
For 19 days, the ships searched, sending out helicopter reconnaissance whenever the weather permitted.
Sea Shepherd suspected that the whalers were using a satellite tracking program to monitor the movements of the Sea Shepherd ships. Captain Watson decided to work the ships through two hundred miles of ice south east of the Balleny Islands. The satellite could not track the wake of ships through the ice.
Finally, on February 9, the Robert Hunter found the whaling fleet. There were three harpoon vessels, the factory ship the Nisshin Maru, and there were whales nearby.
As the Robert Hunter approached, the harpoon vessels fled to the North, the whales escaped to the West, and the Nisshin Maru fled to the east straight towards the Farley Mowat.
At two miles, the Farley Mowat deployed three Zodiac inflatables and sent them ahead to head off the Nisshin Maru. They used nail guns to fasten steel plates over the out take drains where the blood drains off the deck, and tossed smoke canisters and stink bombs onto the flensing deck of the factory ship shutting down their operations.
As the pursuit continued, the weather changed abruptly and the vessels were quickly engulfed in fog, sleet, snow, and wind. Captain Watson called back his boats but only two of the three returned.
It quickly became apparent that the third boat was lost. The Farley Mowat initiated a search grid and issued a maritime distress call. This obligated the Japanese factory ship to participate in the search. The other Japanese vessels in the fleet refused to participate.
The search grid worked - the two crew were found seven hours later. Both were wearing wetsuits under Mustang survival suits and were in good spirits. They were found just in time as the weather got very nasty soon after.
Captain Watson thanked the Japanese for participating in the search and then politely said that it was back to the business of protecting whales.
For two days the weather prevented any whaling activities. On February 12, the Robert Hunter spotted the whaling vessel Kaiko Maru chasing a pod of whales. Captain Conelissen placed his ship between the whales and the whaler allowing the whales to escape.
The ships were in an area of ice floes and the Kaiko Maru swerved into the side of the Robert Hunter forcing it to strike a large pan of ice. The collision put a large gash in the starboard side of the bow of the Robert Hunter and the ice buckled a plate below the water line on the port side.
The Farley Mowat arrived on the scene and observed the Kaiko Maru deliberately back up and into the port stern side of the Robert Hunter inflicting a 2nd gash in the hull, this time above the deckline.
The Kaiko Maru then put out a distress signal and reported that they had been rammed. Of course, aside from the video evidence, there is the fact that Sea Shepherd ships have rammed whalers before and have always admitted to it. In fact, only a year before, the Farley Mowat hit the side of the Japanese whaling fleet supply ship Oriental Bluebird. If the Robert Hunter had deliberately rammed the Kaiko Maru, we would proudly admit it. We did not. Our target was the Nisshin Maru, the death star of the fleet.
New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter called Captain Watson on the Farley Mowat and asked if he would refrain from damaging the Nisshin Maru. Captain Watson said he would if Mr. Carter would make a commitment to doing everything he could to stop Japan from slaughtering endangered humpback and fin whales. Sea Shepherd takes this commitment very seriously because the Japanese have targeted fifty highly endangered humpbacks and fifty endangered fin whales for slaughter in December of 2007.
At this point, the Sea Shepherd ships could only pursue the whaling fleet for two more days, and now are being forced by lack of fuel and by bureaucratic harassment to return to port.
The impossible mission was fulfilled. Against all odds, two ships came from opposite sides of the planet and found the Japanese whaling fleet operating illegally off the coast of Antarctica. Two pods of whales were saved. The campaign highlighted the continuing illegal operations of Japan's ruthless whaling fleet and the message that Japanese whalers were killing endangered whales in a whale sanctuary was widely publicized around the world.
Now, we head back to Australia where the Farley Mowat may be seized as an undocumented vessel. The damage on the Robert Hunter needs to be repaired. And most importantly, preparations must be made to return in December 2007 with a dedicated and determined crew to intercept the plans by the Japanese whaling fleet to slaughter the humpbacks and the fin whales.
Sea Shepherd will never surrender to the ruthless criminal Japanese whaling operations. We will be back again next year and, hopefully, with more support.
The crews of the Farley Mowat and the Robert Hunter gratefully acknowledge the support of all of our supporters. A special thank-you to Bluetongue Brewery for joining in an alliance with Sea Shepherd to end whaling and for hosting the awesome website