Tensions have been riding high for several weeks in the Southern Ocean between the Japanese whaling fleet and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS). After alleged repeated rammings of SSCS vessels, Japan has temporarily called off the hunt.
ABC News Australia is reporting that Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) has temporarily suspended its annual whale hunt in the Southern Ocean after dangerous altercations between its vessels and SSCS vessels in the Antarctic.
According to SSCS, on Feb 20. the whaling fleet's ginormous factory ship -- the Nisshin Maru, allegedly rammed four ships in one hour -- the SSCS' Sam Simon; Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker plus the South Korean Fuel tanker, Sun Laurel.
Tensions have been heating up for several days as Sea Shepherd located the Nisshin Maru early on and stayed on its tail. Just a few days ago the Yushin Maru No. 2 -- a harpoon vessel, attempted to offload a dead whale to the factory ship for processing in front of the Bob Barker. The Bob Barker stayed on the Nisshin Maru's slipway to prevent the transfer in a tense standoff that lasted several hours.
Sea Shepherd released video of the altercation a short while later showing the Yushin Maru No.2 veering towards the Bob Barker dangerously:
This incident was followed shortly afterwards by a report that the South Korean fuel tanker Sun Laurel was leaking oil in protected waters belonging to Australia. The MV Brigitte Bardot reported:
In the early hours of the 17th of February, while the SSS Sam Simon was tailing the South Korean owned Sun Laurel, fuel bunker ship to the Japanese whaling fleet, the Sam Simon crew noticed the smell of diesel fumes coming from the wake of the Sun Laurel, over one mile ahead.
The Sam Simon recorded an audio transmission between the Captain and Bosun of the Sun Laurel -- the Japanese whaling fleet's refueling vessel. In this recording, the Captain of the vessel refers to the oil spill that the Sam Simon had documented and collected samples of hours earlier.
SSCS released the audio transmission on YouTube and accused the Sun Laurel of violating international law.
Less than 24 hours ago, the Operation Zero Tolerance crew issued a bulletin indicating that the confrontation was worsening via Facebook:
Nine ships in Intense confrontation in an effort to block illegal refuelling of the Nisshin Maru
Position: 66° 00“ South 79° 43“ East
2100 Hours AEDT
There is an intense confrontation going on at the moment. The Nisshin Maru attempted to dock alongside the Sun Laurel for an illegal fueling operation. Our three ships moved immediately to block them.
The Japanese responded by sending in all three harpoon vessels plus the Shonan Maru #2, all the Japanese vessels except the Sun Laurel have their water cannons blasting plus trailing anti-fouling lines. We have launched two small boats, one from the Steve Irwin and one from the Bob Barker to attempt to cut the anti fouling lines.
The Japanese vessels are coming dangerously close in their attempts at intimidation.
As tensions increased yet further, Sea Shepherd beamed live footage around the world via their streaming network at Seashepherd.ezearth.tv, but an attempt by the Nisshin Maru to refuel via the Sun Laurel and its subsequent blocking by SSCS vessels saw the altercation deteriorate further still.
About an hour ago, SSCS released an updated version of events as they played out:
Concussion grenades were thrown at the Bob Barker and the Steve Irwin by the crew of the Nissin Maru. Captain Peter Hammarstedt radioed the whaling fleet’s factory vessel, the Nisshin Maru, and told them that the Bob Barker intended to maintain course and speed, that the moral and legal obligation to avoid the collision was on the Nisshin Maru.
The Nisshin Maru, turned and was approaching from starboard. It nearly collided with Bob Barker, before it turned into Steve Irwin, and rammed the Sea Shepherd ship’s stern. The Nisshin Maru continued on its collision course, and rammed the portside of the Steve Irwin. The Nisshin Maru then rammed the Bob Barker.
The Steve Irwin increased its speed ahead to avoid the Nisshin Maru. The Bob Barker took the Steve Irwin’s position on the portside of the Sun Laurel. The Steve Irwin circled back, and the Nisshin Maru pushed the Bob Barker into the Sun Laurel, sandwiching the Bob Barker between itself and the Sun Laurel. The Nisshin Maru then fell back behind the Bob Barker, and rammed full speed into the portside stern of the Sun Laurel, shattering their portside life-raft, and destroying the davit to launch the other life-raft.
The Nisshin Maru then rammed the Bob Barker again from behind, destroying one of their radars, and all of their masts. The Bob Barker completely lost power and issued a MayDay distress call. As this distress call was issued, the Nisshin Maru turned away and began fleeing north.
"After the day of clashes, Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research announced its work has stopped for the time being," said ABC News Australia. Citing the inability to refuel, the ICR suspended operations but stopped short of declaring the season over. It did not issue any comment on the alleged ramming.
Sea Shepherd founder Capt. Paul Watson said on his Facebook page:
The captain of the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru lost his temper, and unfortunately road rage with an 8,000 ton ship in remote waters amongst icebergs and ice packs can be somewhat intimidating, as we all learned very dramatically today.
Australia's Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke earlier said he was trying to confirm the reports before an investigation is launched.
In a press release by Sea Shepherd Australia, the organization said:
All three Sea Shepherd ships were rammed, with the Bob Barker sustaining the heaviest damage. Power has been restored to the Bob Barker. Fortunately no crew members sustained injuries. The crews completed the mission to block the refueling and will continue to protect the whales in the sanctuary.Update: 5:12 PM MST.
According to NHK World, Japan Broadcasting Corporation:
Japan's Fisheries Agency says one of the country's research whaling ships has been damaged by the Sea Shepherd anti-whaling group. The agency says the Nisshin Maru was attacked by 3 Sea Shepherd boats at about 11 AM Japan Time on Wednesday while trying to refuel in the Antarctic Ocean.