Having already intercepted the Japanese whaling fleet on Christmas day, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SCSS) believes Japan is out for revenge.
After locating the Japanese whaling fleet some 1,000 miles north of the Southern Ocean Whaling Sanctuary, SSCS announced today that conflict between whalers and activists is "inevitable." With Japan attempting to control the activists through the US court system, Paul Watson, Captain and founder of Sea Shepherd said he is fully expecting the whaling ships to ram or storm the Society's vessels out of "revenge."
Watson's statement, given to Australian newspaperThe Age, leaves no doubt that the Sea Shepherd campaign, 'Operation Divine Wind', is thoroughly underway. “This is going to be a long hard pursuit from here to the coast of Antarctica,” said Watson, who credited a donated drone named Nicole Montecalvo for finding and photographing the Japanese whaling fleet's factory ship, the Nisshin Maru.
The drone, described as "valuable" to the campaign, was donated to the Steve Irwin by Bayshore Recycling and Moran Office of Maritime and Port Security, both of New Jersey. Having been tipped off that the Nisshin Maru had passed through the Lombok Strait, Watson said Sea Shepherd "waited south of the strait at a distance of 500 miles off the southwest coast of Western Australia [...and...] caught the whalers at 37 degrees South, far above the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary."
Watson believes the whalers' pride will force them into attempting to make "an example of Sea Shepherd" after the Japanese abandoned their hunt earlier than planned last season citing "ongoing harassment" from Sea Shepherd activists. The concerns for the anti-whalers this year, involve the converted harpoon ship the Shonan Maru No.2 which is carrying officers belonging to the Japanese coastguard. The Shonan Maru No.2 is the same vessel which collided with the SSCS's Ady Gil in 2010, cutting it in half.
Japan has been criticized for funding this extra security with funds earmarked for post-disaster relief, yet safer hunts "would ultimately help whaling towns along the coast to recover from the earthquake and tsunami," Fisheries Agency spokesman Tatsuya Nakaoku told the Japan Times. Watson himself told Adam Harvey of AM, "I know there's a lot of angry people who said 'Look I didn't send my money to help the victims of the tsunami only to have you use it to go down south and kill whales'."
The former Fisheries Agency spokesman, Hideki Moronuki, then got involved and accused Watson of "irresponsible propaganda," because the funds used he said, were not donated funds but part of a supplementary budget allocated from the Japanese government. Wherever the funds came from, that they were destined for rebuilding efforts has not sat well with many, including some of Japan's own citizens.
Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), has attempted further interference for SSCS on its own soil, by recently hiring American law firm Miller Nash to represent it in a US lawsuit aimed to prevent "acts of violence" by activists during this year's whale hunt. Watson however, announced that the hearing had been set for February 16 and Sea Shepherd should be "on our way back by that date," thus virtually eliminating any hopes of Japan getting legal intervention this season.
Japan is also still holding 42-year-old Dutch National and Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian, Erwin Vermeulen, after arresting him in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, for what Japanese authorities describe as the "suspicion of acting violently against a man involved in whaling." Watson denied the claim due to "no witnesses" and wrote on Facebook yesterday, "There will be a decision made on the 27th (Japan-time) as to release Erwin or continue to keep him in jail." The SSCS Captain called for "his safe and immediate release," asking supporters to contact Japanese authorities and tell them the world is watching for a "free Erwin." Vemeulen has been held at Shingu police station since his arrest on Dec 16 and was denied release today, being remanded for a further 10 days.
Watson, who accuses the Japanese of being "out of control" readily admits that this will be the Sea Shepherd's most challenging campaign to date. "We can't be deterred by this [...] we're not going to be scared off", he told The Age, via phone. Yesterday on Facebook, the Captain added, "Sea Shepherd sails for life and the Japanese whalers sail for death. It is the forces for life against the forces for death and it will be our passion for life that will win this battle against those who worship the profits of death."
Sea Shepherd has three ships currently heading for stormy seas in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, the Steve Irwin, the Bob Barker and the speedy, Brigitte Bardot.
Video courtesy of Sea Shepherd.org.