Whaling fleet makes illegal fuel stop

Feature story - 23 January, 2008
Yesterday, after 11 days of preventing the Japanese whaling fleet from killing whales, activists from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, temporarily blocked the fleet's factory ship Nisshin Maru from being illegally refueled in Antarctic waters.

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.

As part of a dramatic peaceful protest, two of our activists drove an inflatable boat between the factory ship and the refueling vessel, as the two massive ships began moving closer together in preparation for refueling.

Two Greenpeace inflatables were launched while members of the Esperanza's crew warned the Japanese vessels, which were still about a mile apart, that our boat and activists were beside the refueling vessel, Oriental Bluebird, to oppose the illegal refueling within the Antarctic Treaty area. But the two ships continued to close in on each other trapping one of our inflatables.

Before inflatables were launched the crew of the Greenpeace ship Esperanza radioed the Panamanian flagged Oriental Bluebird, in Japanese, Spanish and English, with a statement:

"The Oriental Bluebird must leave Antarctic waters immediately: your presence here is unwanted and a threat to the pristine Antarctic environment which has been declared a particularly sensitive sea area by the International Maritime Organisation and a 'natural reserve, devoted to peace and science' by the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty… Japan, as a party to the Treaty, must comply with the letter and the spirit of the Treaty."

For about half an hour our inflatable - 8 meters long between vessels of around 130 and 160 meters length - prevented the two ships from starting to refuel. Eventually the inflatable was forced out, with our driver narrowly avoiding getting caught by a cable.

The two ships began exchanging their goods: fuel for the Nisshin Maru to continue hunting whales, and the boxed "scientific results" (whale meat) for the Oriental Bluebird to take back to Tokyo.

Our activists continued to document the refueling and whale meat transfer from inflatables. As they were doing so, the Japanese hunter vessels spent more than an hour performing dangerous maneuvers, driving directly towards our inflatables in order to push them away from the Nisshin Maru and Oriental Bluebird.

At this point, the Australian coastguard ship, the Oceanic Viking appeared on the horizon. Their arrival had an immediate impact on the activities. The hunter vessels slowed down and increased their distance to the factory ships and as the Oceanic Viking came closer they also turned off their hoses.

The Oceanic Viking launched two inflatables to document the whaling fleet, free from the freezing water canon or dangerous maneuvers of hunter ships. As our activists returned to the Esperanza they radioed the Australian crew to request that the Australian Government investigate the illegal refueling within Antarctic waters.

Clearly, the Oriental Bluebird is an integral part of the whaling fleet. But it does not having any permit from the Panamanian Government as required by the International Whaling Commission. Japan is a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty, which is designed to ensure protection of the Antarctic environment. But the whaling fleet consistently fails to submit the required environmental impact assessments to the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat. The Oriental Bluebird also lacks this documentation. Ironically, Panama takes a position in defense of whales, at the International Whaling Commission and elsewhere and yet they participate in whaling by allowing the Oriental Bluebird to operate under their flag. Greenpeace is urging Panama to de-flag the Oriental Bluebird, or order it stop supporting the needless slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Yesterday the Japanese Fisheries Agency said at a press briefing that they have not resumed whaling because the Esperanza is with them. Greenpeace activists are in the Southern Ocean to peacefully stop the hunt and that is what they have done. But it is not enough to stop whaling only when the world's eyes are on the fleet and the Esperanza is on its tail. Japan must call an end to this whaling season now and make it the last one.

The Japanese government has come under increasing pressure over their whaling programme and yesterday that pressure increased after Greenpeace Japan Whales Project Leader Junichi Sato wrote an open letter to Japanese business leaders warning of the negative impact that whaling is having on the country's reputation internationally.

Already the New Zealand division of Toyota has condemned whaling and

even the former whaling company Nissui, has acknowledged that whaling is bad for business.

The letter states:

'By hunting nearly 1,000 whales including endangered fin whales, byusing tax payers' money, under the name of "research" in aninternationally recognized whale sanctuary, the Japanese government iscreating huge environmental, economic, and diplomatic friction, thenegative impact of which many professionals in the economic andfinancial world in Japan have underestimated.  As Nippon Suisan Kaisha,Ltd. (Nissui), one of the major ex-whaling companies, said, "Involvementin whaling is a business risk." Whaling creates a negative image to theworld for Japanese companies and the country itself.

Take Action: Stop the new whaling ship

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