Greenpeace ready to tow stricken whaling ship

Feature story - 16 February, 2007
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is ready to tow the stricken Japanese whaling vessel the Nisshin Maru out of danger and prevent potential Antarctic environmental disaster.

The Esperanza in the Southern Ocean.

Onboard the


in the Southern Ocean - campaigning against illegal whaling - we find ourselves in an unexpected situation. The vessel we had been searching for - the Japanese factory whaling ship

Nisshin Maru

- issued a distress call after a serious fire broke out on board.

Update 17 February 2007: We sighted the Japanese government's whaling factory ship

Nisshin Maru

at about 07.00 (New Zealand daylight time) this morning. Two ships - the re-supply and re-fuelling vessel

Oriental Bluebird

and one of the harpoon, or catcher boats the

Yushin Maru

- are tied either side of the

Nisshin Maru

. Nearby are two more catcher boats. Standing off, some distance away is the US Coast Guard icebreaker

Polar Sea

- The

Yushin Maru

asked us for assistance in translating between them and the

Polar Sea

, and the Esperanza's helicopter has been conducting an aerial survey of ice conditions at the request of the Japanese vessels. More news as it happens, and breaking news at the weblog.

The Esperanza

is now less than a day's sailing from the disabled whaling ship. We've made a commitment to the fleet to assist the crew in any way possible, and make an environmental impact assessment if needed. One crew member of the

Nisshin Maru

is still missing, and it's reported that the ship could be carrying approximately 1,000 tons of oil and sitting 100 nautical miles from the largest Adelie penguin colony in the world.

The Fisheries Agency of Japan has already refused help from Greenpeace. However, the Esperanza

is continuing on its course to the stricken vessel.

"Our first thoughts are for the missing crewman and the rest of the people on board. This is not a time to play politics from behind a desk in Tokyo," said Karli Thomas, expedition leader on board the Esperanza. "This is a human tragedy and a potential environmental disaster. We have a moral obligation to act and there is a legal obligation under the Antarctic treaty for the Nisshin Maru's owners to accept our help."

Greenpeace has offered to tow the whaling factory ship out of the pristine Antarctic environment of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. The Esperanza

's captain, Frank Kamp, had ten years experience working on salvage vessels before joining Greenpeace. Another vessel may be required to tow the 8,000-ton

Nisshin Maru

beyond Antarctic waters through the stormy "Roaring Forties" weather, though we'll be making every effort to take the

Nisshin Maru

all the way into port.

"While we recognise the humanitarian and environmental need to assist the Nisshin Maru

, we are not in the business of salvaging a whaling ship in order for it to start whaling again next season," added Thomas. "This tragedy should mark the end of this terrible business and the government funding should be invested not in a new or repaired ship, but in something that the Japanese people can truly benefit from."

As of this writing, the Esperanza will arrive at the Nisshin Maru's

location in a matter of hours. You can stay updated on this story via the Greenpeace Ocean Defenders Weblog direct from the ship, and see what the Esperanza sees via the live webcam.

The accident comes on the heels of a meeting in Japan aimed at reintroducing commercial whaling.   Almost without exception, pro-conservation members of the International Whaling Commission boycotted the meeting.

Live updates from the Esperanza weblog

All the latest from our ship in the Southern Ocean and our political team around the world.

Live webcam

See what the Esperanza sees with our live webcam from the bow of the ship.