Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Chaos Grips the Southern Ocean

All right so there is a ton of new coming out of the Southern Ocean over the past 24 hours. I am going to describe the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's side of the story as there are actual photographs that back up their claims. The first part of this blog will be a summary as to what has happened in the Southern Ocean and the second part of this blog will be my personal feeling on the matter.

For those of you who are unaware, there is a war going on in the Southern Ocean between the Japanese Whaling Fleet and Sea Shepherd Australia. For the past few weeks, the conservation vessels have prevented the whalers from illegally killing whales in a whale sanctuary in the Southern Ocean that is controlled by Australia. Along with the whaling fleet is the fuel tanker Sun Laurel. This ship is carrying heavy fuel oil, which needless to say, if spilled would be catastrophic to the surrounding area. Several days ago, the Japanese harpoon vessel Yushin Maru #1 and Japanese Security Vessel were illegally fueled by the Sun Laurel. The reason the fueling was illegal was twofold. First, it is unlawful to enter the Antarctic Treaty Zone with heavy fuel oil, something that the Sun Laurel has on board and in large quantities. Second, it is illegal to transfer heavy fuel oil in the Antarctic Treaty Zone. For an idea as to where that treaty zone is, here's a map

The area in which to focus is the area controlled by Australia. For reference, the Antarctic Treaty Zone starts at 60 degrees South and extends through Antarctica. This means that the Sun Laurel (below) was below this line when it fueled the Yushin Maru #1 (the blue vessel in the picture being fueled) and Shonan Maru #2.

Fast forward to yesterday. The Sea Shepherd vessel Sam Simon and the Sun Laurel were joined by the Steve Irwin, Bob Barker, Yushin Maru #1,2, and 3, and the Nisshin Maru. Under the cover of darkness, the Nisshin Maru led the Sun Laurel into a thick ice pack in an attempt to lose the Sea Shepherd Vessels and refuel the whaling ships. The Sun Laurel is not designed for ice and could have easily sank if it had hit any thick ice. At this time, the Sun Laurel was notified by Sea Shepherd that they would not allow any illegal fueling to take place and told the Sun Laurel that they can refuel the whaling fleet above 60 degrees South. At the time, the ships were roughly 360 miles south of that line. The captain of the Nisshin Maru wanted none of that and soon after the mess began.

At 10:20am, the Shonan Maru #2 arrived on the scene. For a quick little introduction on this ship, this is the ship that earlier in the year entered Australian waters despite the Australian Government demanding they not. This is also the ship that made headlines a few years ago after it had cut the hull off the Sea Shepherd Speed Vessel Ady Gil, leading to it's eventual sinking. As the Shonan Maru #2 arrived, the three harpoon vessels began to circle the Sea Shepherd vessels, blasting their crews with high powered water cannons at the crew of the Sea Shepherd ships. Then the Nisshin Maru itself began to close in on the Steve Irwin which was alongside the Sun Laurel.

In this photo: The three harpoon ships and the Shonan Maru #2 (white ship) close on the Sea Shepherd vessels.

In this photo: The harpoon ships attacking Sea Shepherd vessels with high powered water cannons. The Bob Barker is the ship farthest back with one harpoon ship right next to it and the Steve Irwin is alongside the Sun Laurel with the Nisshin Maru a bit further back.

10:50am; The Nisshin Maru closed in on the Steve Irwin and started to get dangerously close to hitting the Steve Irwin and the Sun Laurel. Soon after chaos erupted.

12:20pm: The Nisshin Maru begins it's assault. The Bosun of the Sun Laurel warned the Nisshin Maru to stop because they were getting too close to the tanker. The Nisshin Maru did not stop, rather continued to bear down on the Steve Irwin (below) 
At 12:56, The Nisshin Maru would ram the Steve Irwin twice, damaging it's helicopter deck and port side. As the Steve Irwin, a ship literally 10 times smaller than the Nisshin Maru, tried to get away, the Bob Barker took it's place.

In this photo: The Nisshin Maru rams the Steve Irwin's helicopter deck on the port side of the ship.

In this photo: The Nisshin Maru rams the Steve Irwin a second time, pushing it towards the fuel tanker, Sun Laurel.

In this photo: The Steve Irwin running from the Nisshin Maru while the Bob Barker takes it's position alongside the Sun Laurel.

While the Nisshin Maru was ramming the Steve Irwin and while the Bob Barker was moving in, the Japanese crew threw concussion grenades at the crew of the Sea Shepherd ships along with the use of high powered water cannons. The whalers than turned their attention to the main exhaust pipe of the Bob Barker and tried to flood it with their water cannons. During the chaos, co-campaign leader Bob Brown ordered that the Sea Shepherd ships not retaliate to the aggression of the Nisshin Maru. An order that the three conservation ships would obey as no violence was directed towards the whaling fleet during this fight.

Next the Nisshin Maru would do the unthinkable. The Nisshin Maru in an attempt at ramming the Bob Barker, ran right into the port side of the Sun Laurel destroying it's life rafts.

In this photo: The Nisshin Maru just before ramming the Sun Laurel.

In this photo: The Nisshin Maru rams the Sun Laurel destroying their life boats.

In this photo: The Nisshin Maru rams the Sun Laurel again.

After ramming their own ship you would think the Nisshin Maru would stop right? Not by a long shot. The Nisshin Maru would then force it's way between the Bob Barker and Sun Laurel, hitting both ships at once. The Bob Barker was virtually ran over by the Nisshin Maru as these pictures will show.

In this photo: The Nisshin Maru starting to ram both the Sun Laurel and Bob Barker.

In this photo: The Nisshin Maru's massive bow towers over the bridge of the Bob Barker breaking the Bob Barker's running lights and radar systems. The Shonan Maru #2 stood by.

While the Nisshin Maru continued to push onto the Bob Barker, the conservation ship began to roll and take on water causing the ships power to go off. Captain Peter Hammarstedt managed to send out a mayday call. Upon hearing this call, the Nisshin Maru backed off. The Bob Barker would sit dead in the water for about a half hour while the crew fixed the breach and got power back to the ship.

Earlier, the Sam Simon also had to deal with the Nisshin Maru as they too were rammed and actually ordered to leave Australian waters under the authority of the Government of Japan. That means an Australian vessel was ordered out of Australian waters by a Japanese whaling ship. The aftermath of this incident becomes very interesting as things continue to develop.

During the fight, the Bob Barker had deployed their Zodiacs where some of these pictures were taken from. During the collisions a bottle was apparently tossed to one of the boats from the Sun Laurel. Inside the bottle was a note that read  “To Research ship, Please: ‘May Day’ ‘Help’ All crew did not know to this Antarctic trip. So all crew don’t like to supply this fishing vessels. We cannot use telephone so we cannot speak to IMO. Please you as soon as possible take action. Thank you.”

The captain of the Sun Laurel also mentioned in the note that the Sun Laurel, under Japanese order, was not allowed to use their phones from January 20th- February 28th. Also, the majority of the crew on the Sun Laurel had no idea that they were going to Antarctica and did not support the whaling fleet at all. After all of the ramming had taken place the crew of the Bob Barker tossed some t-shirts to the crew of the Sun Laurel who put them on and gave the Bob Barker a thumbs up. 

So does the ICR have to say about this? Due to it being too dangerous to refuel with Sea Shepherd around, the ICR has called off the whale hunt for now until the ships can refuel. Chances are this means North of the 60 degree mark. They also blame the Bob Barker for ramming the Nisshin Maru which judging from this picture, I personally cannot see how that is even possible.  
The ICR claims that this is the Bob Barker rammig the Nisshin Maru.

So what is going on right now? Latest news has the damaged Sun Laurel being escorted by the Sam Simon heading North. The Nisshin Maru following the mayday call by the Bob Barker has fled to the West with the Steve Irwin and Bob Barker on its tail. The three Yushins and the Shonan Maru #2 have all take off in different directions. At this point it is unknown if the Sun Laurel intends to still refuel the fleet, but with her going one way and the fleet going in all different directions it is thought they may have had enough and are going home. As the sun rises over the Southern Ocean, more news will probably come out of the Southern Ocean as to what the whaling fleet is going to do.

So that is what happened while many of us here in the United States slept. My opinion on the matter is very simple. This was not even about whaling. This was about upholing the law and not allowing large ships to refuel using heavy fuel oil south of 60 degrees. The actions displayed by the captain of the Nisshin Maru should by all rights land him in jail, but much like the captain of the Shonan Maru #2 who got away with cutting the bow off the Ady Gil, I don't expect any punishment to befall him. As far as the Sun Laurel is concerned, I don't know what to think at this point. The Japanese have tried many sneaky things to try and secure their whaling operations. It wouldn't surprise me if they hired the Sun Laurel and tried to keep it hush hush. The Sun Laurel had no business being in an ice pack. I doubt that the Sun Laurel's captain was so dead set on fueling below 60 degrees. I'm sure there had to be some kind of radio communication between the Sun Laurel and Nisshin Maru involving that issue. The Sun Laurel is now heading North with the Sam Simon. I hope the crew of all the rammed ships are okay and really hope nothing goes wrong with the Sun Laurel on it's trip home. Their life rafts were destroyed by the Nisshin Maru so I am happy to see that the Sam Simon is escorting them. I'm sure though that the Sam Simon is also escorting the Sun Laurel to prevent any illegal fueling still as well.

All in all, this was a really scary event that should never have happened. The whaling fleet should never had tried to fuel below 60 degrees south. In doing so, they showed just how little regard they have for the law and in that case for the ecosystem of the Southern Ocean. If something had happened during the refueling of any of those ships and an oil spill occurred... I don't even want to think about it. It's not like Africa or the Gulf of Mexico where people are going to rush out and clean the oil. Chances are that stuff would literally destroy the ecosystem. Sea Shepherd at is now doing the job that the Australian navy should be doing. They are down there to prevent illegal commercial whaling. Now they also had to stop illegal fueling below 60 degrees. It is not their job to do any of this. The Government of Australia needs to say following this even that enough is enough and send a boat down there and get control of the situation. This season has seen several boats already in distress. The Yushin Maru #1 was ditched earlier by the rest of the whaling fleet when it was virtually out of fuel. The Sun Laurel and Bob Barker have taken a good amount of damage. Someone is going to wind up getting killed down there and it is not going to be one of the whalers.

Ship to ship, the whaling fleet is much larger. As you could see in the pictures the Nisshin Maru is a fortress compared to even the Sun Laurel which is by no means small. It is far too dangerous to allow this insanity to continue in Australian waters. Now it's not just whale lives that are at stake, it's human lives too. Some good has come out of this mess though. That is the ICR putting all whaling operations on hold. The fleet needs to refuel. Whether it is from the Sun Laurel or someone else, the fleet has to refuel. If the Sun Laurel does decide to refuel the fleet above 60 degrees, it will take several days for the fleet to get there, refuel, and return to the whale sanctuary. There are just 17 days left in the season. This could possibly be the end of the season, but until anything becomes official I am holding my breath. 

Thank you Sea Shepherd for doing the work that the Australian Government should be doing.

All photo credit goes to Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

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