Esperanza at location of disabled whaling ship

Feature story - February 17, 2007
The Esperanza is currently staying close by the Japanese government's whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru, which was disabled by fire on Thursday. This afternoon, we received a radio call from the whaling crew to tell us that the body of their missing colleague, 27-year-old Kazutaka Makita, had been found. We offered our condolences to the crew and would like to extend them to Kazutaka Makita's wife and family.

The Esperanza (foreground) and the Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru, disabled by a recent fire.

The Esperanza had arrived at the location in the Ross Sea at about 07.00 (New Zealand daylight time) today. Two ships - the re-supply and re-fuelling vessel Oriental Bluebird and one of the harpoon, or catcher boats  - were tied either side of the Nisshin Maru.  Nearby were two more catcher boats.

Shortly after the Esperanza arrived, a US Coast Guard icebreaker, the Polar Sea appeared. They  said they were also here to assess the situation. The Yushin Maru then asked our campaigner from Japan, Sakyo to help translate between the two.

Weather conditions

When we arrived the weather conditions around the ships was quite good, with calm seas and clear visibility, but several icebergs and loose ice nearby. But the weather forecasts indicate that might well change  over the next couple of days. Over the course of the day we saw once again how quickly conditions can change here. The sunny morning turned into a cloudy snowy midday and then once more into sunshine in the afternoon, but with considerably more ice around.

First contact

When we first arrived, Sakyo radioed the Nisshin Maru, but received no answer. He then radioed the catcher boat, the Yushin Maru and repeated the assurance that the Esperanza had come to help. They responded, asking us to standby and requesting that we assess the ice conditions.

The Esperanza's helicopter made an initial aerial assessment of the situation. After flying over the Nisshin Maru, it looked fairly normal, with no sign of fire on the decks, or any sign of damaged equipment. There was a lot of power cabling and ropes slung between the catcher boat and the Nisshin Maru. The ship's decks were white with snow and  approximately 12 people were visible on the deck.

Offer of help

Yesterday we offered to tow the Nisshin Maru north, in order to assist and ensure there was no further threat to the environment from the disabled vessel. The Fisheries Agency of Japan responded by calling us "terrorists" an unhelpful response, given the potential for further risk and danger in this already serious humanitarian and environmental situation in depths of the Ross Sea.

Right now, the Nisshin Maru is secured - to two other ships, which takes care of short-term difficulties. It's been reported that one of them, the Oriental Bluebird, could tow the Nisshin Maru. However, Frank Kamp, the Esperanza's captain, says that the Oriental Bluebird clearly isn't the best option - and he has ten years experience on salvage vessels. The Oriental Bluebird is too big and too difficult to manoeuvre should more problems arise. As it stands, we're still the best option should the Nisshin Maru need to be towed out of the Ross Sea, so we'll wait nearby to see what happens in the coming hours and days.

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark == and beyond

Elsewhere in the world, other pro-whaling nations have been getting themselves into trouble. While at the so-called "normalisation" (commercialisation of whaling) meeting in Tokyo, Danish IWC commissioner Ole Samsing suggested excluding both media and NGOs from future International Whaling Commission (IWC) meetings.

We responded, questioning whether or not we had misunderstood Mr Samsing. The media seems to have seized upon this, and asked Mr Samsing for clarification. He repeated his suggestions to the journalists, which has caused a scandal in Denmark, where the foreign minister will now have to explain Denmark's position in the IWC in parliament, where he is sure to be grilled by the environmental committee.

Nicaragua scandal

Meanwhile, in Nicaragua, another whaling scandal has broken out. Two newspapers have published articles on a scandal involving a Mr Marenco, who was at the "normalisation" representing Nicaragua. The thing is, Mr Marenco used to be the IWC commissioner, during a former, highly corrupt government. He wasn't in Tokyo as an official representative of Nicaragua at all - his bosses at the ministry thought that he had left on holidays! (Read an update about this from our Oceans Campaigner Shane on the Ocean Defender weblog).

Finally some news from the good guys in whaling:, the environment minister of Costa Rica, which is a pro-conservation country, has announced that the country will be voting at the IWC meeting in Anchorage, Alaska in May. Costa Rica had been having some problems reconciling debts with the IWC, but has managed to clear these debts though local private entities. Welcome back, Costa Rica!

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