Greenpeace Ready to Tow Stricken Whaling Ship

Feature story - February 18, 2007
Our Esperanza is ready to tow the stricken Japanese whaling vessel the Nisshin Maru out of danger and prevent potential Antarctic environmental disaster.

Onboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza 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. Missing since the fire, the body of  27-year-old Kazutaka Makita, has been found. We offered our condolences to the crew and would like to extend them to Kazutaka Makita's wife and family.

Esperanza on course

The Esperanza is is standing by, nearby 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.  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.

Meanwhile we have been using our helicopter, Tweety, for aerial surveys to assess the ice conditions nearby.  The pack ice to the south of our position has moved 3 miles north in the last 24 hours and is now only 10 miles away.

Greenpeace Japan's Executive Director and Whales Campaigner offer help to the Japanese Environment Ministry

We offered to tow the Nisshin Maru north, in order to assist and ensure there is no further threat to the environment from the disabled vessel. The Fisheries Agency of Japan has 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 the depths of the Ross Sea.

"Our first thoughts are for the crew and the family of  Kazutaka Makita. 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." Thomas added.

Offer of help

The Esperanza's captain, Frank Kamp, has ten years of experience working on salvage vessels prior to 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."

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