January 12, 2009

Last Roll for the Shepherds

by Jeff (Quartermaster) Australian Director

blog_081220_JeffTuesday 6th January:

With fuel running short, the first leg of Operation Musashi to shut down the whaling fleet is coming to a close as we return to port to refuel. We had been right in the thick of an area where we thought the fleet would be, inside a cove of ice opposite the Ross Sea Ice shelf.

The campaign so far had been plagued with adverse conditions of fog, ice and gale force winds hindering our search of the fleet and today was no different. At 0630 the fog had somewhat lifted and with a visibility of at best 5 miles, a decision was made to launch the helicopter. I helped the heli-team putt on the blades and manned the water valve in case of fire on start-up. Chris did an L shaped pattern swoop, zig-zagging south of us into the ice further where we believed the fleet to be lurking.

Chris returned with the report that the fleet was not sighted. With the ice surrounding us to the south, we navigated the ice north making progress towards Hobart to refuel.

Willie came to the bridge on our PM watch to see who might be keen on a poker game. Willie stated that surely if we were to get a poker game under way, odds are we would find the fleet right in the middle of it.  Well, about 30 minutes into the game a phone call came down to the mess that Amber had spotted a light on the horizon. From that point on the calls kept coming with more and more lights spotted on the horizon indicating multiple ships! The captain stating that the only ships that would be operating in this area would be the fleet. "They had to be around here someplace," the Captain stated.

With the poker game well and truly dusted, it was once again all hands on deck as we went to red alert to prepare for another confrontation with the fleet.

I grabbed my mustang and wet suit in preparation for operating outside and any possible boarding opportunities and headed for the bridge.

Three un-identified ships lay on the horizon, and it appeared as though each vessel was in a search pattern scanning the ocean with their massive search lights. We must have been right in the area where one of the Japanese engineers from the Kyoshin Maru No.2 had fallen overboard the night before. Later reports came out that he was only wearing overalls and as such would not have lasted more than 10 minutes overboard in these cold Antarctic waters.

I went out onto the port side bridge wing with Steve and Eric to gain a clearer picture. Binoculars revealed the shape of two of the vessels via their stern and aft lights; they had to be harpoon vessels, with the third looking very familiar. Could it be the floating slaughterhouse itself, the Nisshin Maru? As the light conditions improved and we came to realization that it was not the Nisshin, it was the spotter vessel, the Kyoshin Maru No. 2.

Even though there were no other vessels on the radar, the Nisshin Maru had to be around here some where. It is generally lurking close by the kill ships in preparation to carry out the barbaric process of taking the gentle giants from the kill ships for so called "research processing". Those very words "RESEARCH" send a chill down any person's spine that has had a connection with these magnificent and intelligent beings.

Once again it was the conditions that stopped us from launching the chopper to scan the area for the cetacean death star.

What we had right in front of us was the spotter vessel the Kyoshin Maru No 2 and the two remaining kill ships, the Yushin Maru No 1 and No 3 as the Yushin Maru No. 2 had mechanical difficulties and was making its was to Indonesia for repairs.

However there was to be no confrontation today.

Out of respect for the lost whaler and his family, we all stood down as an offer of assistance was put forward to the whaling fleet to help in the search. Our Japanese crew member radioed the Japanese fleet with our offer which resulted in almost 15 minutes of silence before we finally got a response. No doubt to discuss the appropriate response from the brains trust on the Nisshin Maru!

It was a long winded response from the captain of the Kyoshin Maru No. 2. The Japanese whalers wanted to continue the search of their lost crew member without the assistance of Sea Shepherd, they did not want any help from so called "Eco-Terrorists" and even our offer to help assist with our helicopter was flat out refused. Captain Paul Watson left the whalers with the announcement that when they had finished searching for their lost comrade, Sea Shepherd would continue harassing their illegal whaling operation in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

We did a pass by the Kyoshin with a couple of wide circles to get some images for our database, and then made course for Hobart. To be right in the heart of the whaling fleet and not be able to carry out any actions was most disheartening, yet with fuel running low, there was not much else we could do.

Prior to retiring, I called in on the bridge to find that we had picked up a tail. Both the spotter and the kill ship were sitting about 9 miles off our stern trailing us.

Perhaps they just wanted to make sure that we were leaving the area. One thing for sure was that they obviously weren't as concerned with looking for their lost comrade as first thought.

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Wednesday 7th January:

I arrived on watch 4 AM to find that the spotter vessel had left, but the kill ship still lay on our tail. A number of speculations as to why it was trailing us were thrown around the ship. One logical idea being that the Yushin 3 was tailing us until a rendezvous point could be reached where they could then hand over the trailing of us to their coast guard vessel that is on their way down to protect the fleet.

The kill ship was sitting about 9 miles off the stern. The Irwin is no match for the Yushin Maru's speed, which is why we launch our attacks with the delta boats. This was not to be the case as conditions were once again against us and the fact that the Yushin 3 was on our tail meant that the kill ship wasn't whaling!

With conditions on the mend a beautiful, large iceberg appeared on the horizon which presented the perfect opportunity to launch an attack on the Yushin. Chris headed off to check out the kill ship and get some footage and images while the deck team prepared for deployment with a lee created from the iceberg.

Chris's return lead to an amazing and enlightening discovery of the harpoon vessel identified as the Yushin Maru No. 3. The Yushin 3's crew had deployed the anti-boarding nets on both port and starboard sides which were custom built and pulled tight up against the railing of the ship and ran from the bridge to the aft deck. They also had large fenders alongside both sides and even if you managed to get a small boat along side, you were greeted with sharp poles pointing at right angles with the purpose of puncturing inflatable boats. They had also managed to install two new water cannons at the top of each of the aft deck stairs with the aim of repelling any boarders. They obviously didn't want any boarders on their ships, realizing how much the human drama of the last boarding (from last year's Whale Defense Campaign: Operation Migaloo) exposed further their illegal and cruel whaling operation to the rest of the world.

By the time the deck team had both the Gemini and the delta in the water the harpoon vessel had turned and made ground with each passing minute in the opposite direction. As the deck team started to make some progress keeping a visual on the harpoon ship, a snowstorm blew in and the seas really started to pick up. Even with the gap now at 4 miles between the Yushin and the boat crew the call was made to return to the ship with crew safety being the priority.

I jumped in to lend a hand working the lines with Pottsy and Don to bring in the Gemini and the Delta. With the ice cool Arne working the crane we had both boats secure in the cradle in no time and could give the all clear to the bridge to get underway with no sign of the kill ship on the radar anymore.

We are low on fuel making our way back to Hobart to refuel for the second leg of Operation Musashi. Green's leader Senator Bob Brown is planning a hero's welcome for the crew of the Whales Navy and has stated that Sea Shepherd's berthing fees should be waived.  We have also found out that even though the Japanese Whalers Association is demanding Australia to not let us into their ports, acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard has stated that Australia will not refuse Sea Shepherd.

It's nice to know that the Australian iconic Steve Irwin with its crew of 15  Australians (48 Internationals), carrying out the governments work of upholding the Australian federal court ruling, defending and protecting the Australian Economic Exclusion Zone, defending the Australian Antarctic Whale Sanctuary, will be allowed back into Australia!

Perhaps one day the Rudd government will fulfill its pre-election promise and defend the Australian Antarctic Whale Sanctuary, so that 48 international volunteers from around the globe will not have to be the last standing defense of the gentle giants!

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The whales are counting on us for protection . . .
We are counting on you to keep us fighting for them.


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