A Greenpeace inflatable boat tries to prevent Japanese whaling fleet's factory ship Nisshin Maru from refueling from the supply vessel Oriental Bluebird in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary

A Greenpeace inflatable boat tries to prevent Japanese whaling fleet's factory ship Nisshin Maru from refueling from the supply vessel Oriental Bluebird in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. © Greenpeace/Rezac

Some great news for the whales - and it was worth waiting for - the Oriental Bluebird - the Japanese-owned cargo and refuelling for the whaling fleet, has lost its Panamanian flag! You may recall that back on January 22nd, activists from the Esperanza blocked the whaling vessels Nisshin Maru and Oriental Bluebird from coming alongside in Southern Ocean waters. The ships planned to exchange fuel and whale meat - but activists Jetske and Heath put their tiny inflatable in between, to the frustration of the whalers.

It seems a long time ago since watched this from the bridge of the Esperanza, but now their blockade has come to fruition; following pressure from Greenpeace, and Panamanian organisations ASVEPA (Panama Green Association) and FSOCIAM (Environmental and Civil Society Forum, NGOs Coalition), the Oriental Bluebird de-flagged and fined, thanks to a legal ruling by Panamanian authorities.

After our action in January, the focus moved to Panama in April. The authorities gave the Oriental Bluebird the maximum penalty of 10,000 Balboas (US$10,000), after ruling it in violation of several domestic and international regulations, that relate to its permissible use, the safety of human life and the preservation of the marine environment.

The Oriental Bluebird is now effectively homeless - its owners will surely be urgently looking for a new flag State to escape the indignity of, and to cover up the breaches of environmental treaties. However, Japan has ratified an international FAO treaty which seeks to end the practice of 're-flagging' vessels in order to circumvent international environmental law. This treaty bars Japan from authorising a ship to participate in the exploitation of marine living resources for at least three years, if that ship has changed its flag after being found in breach of international conservation measures. It remains to be seen if the Japanese government going to try and ignore international law in order to get the Bluebird to the Southern Ocean. Without it, the range of the whaling fleet is seriously diminished - it needs the Oriental Bluebird to ferry fuel to the Antarctic (where it's not supposed to be refuelling) and ship whale meat back (from a whale sanctuary!)

For now, it's sitting in the whaling fleet's home port, in Shimonoseki; the fleet is due to depart on its so-called scientific whale hunt to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary within in the next few weeks. In addition to the millions of Japanese taxpayer yen spent every year to subsidise the whaling operation, this year the Japanese government has added an extra 800 million yen (US$8 million) for a coastguard ship to act as so-called "protection" for the fleet. Meanwhile, our two follow activists, activists, Junichi and Toru - The Tokyo Two, are still under house arrest in Japan. They're facing up to ten years in jail, following a politically motivated smackdown for their exposition an embezzlement scandal at the heart of the whaling programme.

"The Japanese government is spending vast amounts of taxpayers' money to defend the indefensible and militarise a hunt of endangered whales inside an internationally designated whale sanctuary, for a programme that is neither scientifically or economically credible, and has now been proven to be using illegal vessels. What more evidence is needed to cancel this programme?" added Holden. "The arrest of Junichi and Toru was a politically motivated attempt to stifle opposition to the whaling programme; the charges against them should be dropped immediately, as should the government's whaling programme."

Stay tuned for more news the ongoing dodgy adventures of the Oriental Bluebird and the rest of the whaling operation...

Feature story: Japanese whaling ship outlawed »

Press Release: Japanese Whaling Ship Outlawed Following Greenpeace Action in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary »

Video from January 22nd 2008: Confronting the Oriental Bluebird