Nisshin Maru ready to go?

Feature story - 21 February, 2007
The stricken whaling ship Nisshin Maru has ropes and cables attached indicating that the crew is making preparations to depart the Antarctic Treaty Area by towing. It is not yet clear what vessel will tow the ship or when. The Nisshin Maru is currently lashed to the fleet's tanker the Oriental Bluebird, which sails under the Panama flag. Panama is not a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty.

A Greenpeace inflatable inspecting ice conditions at the request of the disabled Japanes whaling vessel, the Nisshin Maru.

The crew of the Esperanza is waiting with bated breath for an announcement on the fate of the stricken whaling ship the Nisshin Maru.  The Japanese crew is still trying to start the engines of the ship, disabled by fire last week.

Fortunately for the sensitive Antarctica environment, the weather has held. However, our helicopter surveys of the area indicate that to the South of us there is floating ice 2 miles away, and east of us the ice is moving northward and is now 20 miles away.  Where we were one day ago is now completely iced over - that is how changeable the conditions in the Southern Ocean are.

The fire and subsequent risk to the pristine Antarctic environment illustrates the dubious nature of this industry, particularly given the lack of preparation and conscientiousness shown by the Nisshin Maru's operators, the Japanese government-affiliated Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR).

Risks to the environment

As an example, the Japanese whaling fleet ships are not ice class (they are not obliged to be, however, this obviously increases risk when operating in an area and time when there is a risk of ice floes) and neither is the tanker the Oriental Bluebird, currently claimed by the ICR to be the most likely candidate to tow the Nisshin Maru. 

The Japanese fleet has also not filed an Environmental Impact Assessment. Japan is a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty.  Under this treaty, they are obliged to submit an Environmental Impact Assessment before entering the Antarctic area.  This Assessment is supposed to ensure that the Precautionary and Polluter pays principles are evoked when there is a risk to the environment. 

The Oriental Bluebird

Interestingly, the Oriental Bluebird is not flagged to Japan, or indeed, any vaguely oriental country.  It is flagged to Panama - a common "flag of convenience" state - which is not a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty.  However, as New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark indicated earlier this week, it is clear the world "would not forgive Japan" if the Nisshin Maru caused an environmental disaster after failing to accept our help. 

Thankfully, the threat of an oil spill seems to have receded for the immediate future, but in the changeable conditions of the Southern Ocean, anything can happen, particularly if towing the Nisshin Maru through ice floes with an inappropriate vessel in icy weather.  This only goes to show the unncessary pressure that the whaling fleet puts on the Antarctic environment - all in the name of "science".

Take action

Ask the Japanese Environment Minister to do the right thing for the crew of the Nisshin Maru and the environment

Ship weblog

Latest updates on the Nisshin Maru situation from the Esperanza