Greenpeace Asks U.S. Government to Prevent Disabled Japanese Whaling Ship from Harming Antarctic Environment

Greenpeace USA has asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to work to expedite the removal of the disabled Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru from the Ross Sea near Antarctica. The vessel, which suffered a debilitating fire last Wednesday, has been drifting in the pristine polar waters close to the shifting pack ice and may be holding up to 1000 tons of fuel. The Greenpeace ship M/Y Esperanza, responded to the distress call sent by the Nisshin Maru last week, and has consistently offered its assistance to tow the whaling ship out of the area.

"It is clear that the vessel is in danger, that it threatens the fragile Antarctic marine environment, and that time is of the essence," wrote Greenpeace USA Executive Director John Passacantando in a letter faxed to Secretary Rice. "As each day passes, the window of opportunity closes and the possibility of grounding or of encountering severe storms increases," he continued.

The Nisshin Maru is part of the six-vessel whaling fleet that has been hunting whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary for weeks. The United States is a member of the Antarctic Treaty which recognizes Antarctica as a place of peace and science. It also requires that any activity carried out in the Treaty Area that could cause environmental damage have an environmental impact assessment and that nations are liable for any harm that they cause that could have been prevented. While it is disputed as to whether whaling is an activity covered by the terms of the Treaty, the fire onboard the Nisshin Maru and subsequent events constitute an environmental emergency. Under international law, if Japan does not take prompt and effective action, other countries are encouraged to respond. Greenpeace is working globally to rally international support to remove the Nisshin Maru from Antarctic waters, but has yet to receive any positive response from the government of Japan to its offer of assistance.

"With the international forum governing whaling, the International Whaling Commission, meeting in Anchorage this coming May, the U.S. government stands at a crossroads: it must protect the international waters of Antarctica from two of its greatest threats: pollution and senseless whaling," said Karen Sack, Whales Project Leader with Greenpeace USA. "The time to act is now, and Greenpeace has the only vessel in the area with the proper gear and necessary sea salvage capabilities," she continued.

The letter was also copied to Dr Bill Hogarth, the U.S. representative to (and current Chairman of) the International Whaling Commission, John Field of the U.S. State Department, and Gerhard Kuska, of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality.

The M/Y Esperanza is an ice class vessel that was originally built as a Soviet fire-fighting vessel in 1984, and was purchased by Greenpeace in 2000 and re-constructed for the international group's environmental advocacy needs. Esperanza has towing experience, a crew of 38, and a captain with ten years' sea-salvage experience. None of the vessels in the Japanese whaling fleet are ice-classed.

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Exp. contact date: 2007-03-21 00:00:00

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