The Japanese harpoon ship, approved Shonan Maru No 2 appears behind the iceberg (photo credit: Barbara Veiga / Sea Shepherd)
It has been an eventful couple of months at sea and most of us are eager to get back to the whaling grounds as soon as possible. Two days ago we departed from Fremantle, Western Australia, for the third voyage down to the Antarctic waters, where the whalers continue their whaling season under the guise of ‘scientific research’. We have been at sea for well over 2 months now and returned to port twice for refuelling. When we initially left for the campaign in early December, we were tailed by the Shonan Maru II, a Japanese harpoon ship turned spy vessel, as soon as we left Australian waters. The ship stayed with us wherever we went. We tried to lose it by heading into ice or heavy weather, but could not shake them.
Illustration by Kerry Lemon
I step outside on the aft deck to see the spy ship, Shonan Maru II, bearing down upon us fast. Our helicopter had been launched earlier to verify what ship it actually is, as we hadn’t come within clear visual range before. Upon arrival, the helicopter had a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) pointed at it. This is a device that sends out a highly directional noise, aimed at disorientating or even incapacitating a person. Using it on our helicopter while it is mid-air is, to say the least, totally irresponsible. With the helicopter now safely back on the Steve Irwin, it seems that the Japanese ship is coming in for the attack. With its water cannons blasting at full power, it is trying to come alongside us, presumably to give the helicopter a wash down, in an effort to damage it. As it chases us, loudspeakers blast: “This is the Shonan Maru captain! You are too close to me! You are too close to me!” Meanwhile we have a prop-fouler ready, which is a long rope we trail from the end of our ship to keep them at bay. If they were to come too close and run over the line, it could get entangled in their propeller and cause serious damage. They know this and are unable to come as close as they’d like. They keep trying but by now we are entering an ice field full of mid-size growlers and after a few sharp manoeuvres the Japanese ship backs off. They fall back but stay behind us within radar range.
The Japanese harpoon vessel, Shonan Maru No 2 on the run with water cannons blasting (photo credit: Michael Williams / Sea Shepherd)
A couple of days later we are anchored up in Commonwealth Bay, overlooking the Antarctic continent on one side and the open sea on the other. Our spy ship can still be seen lurking about on the horizon. We haven’t been able to get rid of her, so we take shelter in these waters, which are French territory. Perhaps the French can help.
We switch off the engines and while one of the officers gets in the helicopter to visit the French base Dumont D’urville, some of the crew strip down for the traditional dive in the freezing Antarctic waters. As negotiations with the French continue into the afternoon, some of us head out in the small boat towards Cape Denison, home to a colony of 30.000 Adelie penguins and the spot where the Australian scientist Mawson landed in 1911. I step foot on land and realise how few people must have been fortunate enough to see this place. Snow covers the land as far as the eye can see and the smell of the fresh and sharp air takes some getting used to. Looking out at sea, the coastline is covered with rocks and home to thousands of Adelie penguins.
A penguin on an iceberg in Antarctica (Photo: Eric Cheng / Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)
Following a bunch of penguins walking towards a huge icy ridge, it strikes me that this is probably one of the very few places of true wilderness left. Untouched by human hands, growth, development, exploitation. So far Antarctica has enjoyed fairly good protection. The Antarctic Treaty prohibits commercial and/or military activity on and around the continent and states that the number of cruise ships is to be kept to a minimum.
However, there are vast resources, such as oil and there are theories that when the treaty is re-negotiated in a few years, some countries including Japan will try to loosen these conditions in order to gain access. Some people argue that the only reason Japan continues its whaling operations in the Southern Ocean is so that it will have some ‘historical claim’ over the resources in the area, if it would ever be opened up for exploitation. Whatever the reasons, right now the Japanese fleet operates illegally in the area, threatening this habitat and the creatures that depend on its protection for their survival, which is all that matters to us.
Illustration by Kerry Lemon
Seeing our ship in the far distance, anchored up in the bay, makes me feel proud to know that we are here for these animals and to protect this unique and untouched wilderness from the destructive hands of corporate power. I head back down towards the water, in the small boat and back to the ship. The commander of the French base has written a letter of support, but without some kind of navy presence in the area, they are unable to do much more than that. We pull up anchor and head back out into what now has become quite a rough sea. Not getting much sleep as we are thrown about by the 15 foot swells.
photo credit: Glenn Lockitch / Sea Shepherd
Sea Shepherd has always enjoyed support from the ranks of Hollywood with, among many, Martin Sheen, Pierce Brosnan and Darryl Hannah donating their time and resources for the cause. The latest to join the list is Ady Gil, a businessman from Los Angeles, who has donated a large sum of money to help us purchase a second vessel. The ship, previously known as Earthrace, is a super fast trimaran powerboat which broke the world circumnavigation record in 2008, is bio-diesel powered and looks like something to have sailed straight out of the latest batman movie. Its skipper and creator Pete Bethune is eager to join the Sea Shepherd campaign and with the financial backing, the ship is refitted and renamed Ady Gil. We are on our way to meet up with the Ady Gil, which left Hobart two weeks earlier, to transfer food and other supplies. As we steam north, our spy ship keeps a steady two nautical miles behind us.
photo credit: Glenn Lockitch / Sea Shepherd
We are getting closer to the Ady Gil and I go up to the bridge to see what is going on. Nothing shows on the radar. The boat is so small that it can go about its business virtually undetected. In addition, we take advantage of the short bit of darkness to covertly meet up. I step out on deck. ‘Over there, can you see?’ I can just about make out a tiny black spot in the vast darkness. We launch a small boat and pick up two of the crew. After a short meeting they head off into the darkness again. We set course for Hobart and the Ady Gil heads towards the spy ship in an attempt to take it out of action. Prop-foulers come out, stink bombs are thrown onto the deck and a photonic disruptor aimed at distracting those on the bridge is put to use. It is all part of our essential arsenal of non-violent tactics to shut down the whalers. In 30 years of operations Sea Shepherd has never caused a single injury as a result of any of its actions. We are non-violent yet honest about the fact that we take aggressive action. Exactly the type of action that is necessary to stop these criminal whale poachers. A few hours later we notice that the spy ship has caught up with us again. As we sail into Australian waters the Japanese ship stays put at the Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) boundary, unwilling to escalate the ongoing international stand-off over whaling.
Read Part 1 here. Part 3 coming soon…
For latest updates and news, please see the Sea Shepherd website: www.seashepherd.org
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- At War for the Whales, Part 3
- At War for the Whales: #1 Heading Out
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