Greenpeace, Sea Shepherds end Southern Ocean whaling protest

Monday, January 23, 2006

Inflatable boats from the Greenpeace ships - the Arctic Sunrise and the Esperanza - hinder the transfer of a dead minke whale from the Japanese whaling fleet catcher ship to the factory ship. (Image Credit:© Greenpeace / Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert)

Anti-whaling activists are heading home after a month of pestering the Japanese whaling fleet near Antarctica. With dwindling food and fuel supplies, the Greenpeace ships Arctic Sunrise and Esperanza are heading for Cape Town. The Sea Shepherd's Farley Mowat has also left the area due to a refuelling cancellation.

The three ships were in the Whale Sanctuary where the controversial Japanese whaling fleet continue to hunt and kill hundreds of Minke whales, including the endangered Fin whales - for what Japan calls "lethal scientific research."

Greenpeace say they will now switch the focus of the campaign to shed light on the corporate entities behind the commercial whaling industry. Greenpeace New Zealand whales campaigner, Pia Mancia, said the two ships exposed the reality of the Japanese commercial whaling operation to the world. She said: "it is now time to focus action on those controlling the whaling fleet."

Greenpeace Southern Ocean Expedition Leader Shane Rattenbury said, "Logistically we cannot remain in the Southern Ocean any longer, but this certainly isn't the last you'll hear of us... We now need the public to focus their attention on the corporates linked to the commercial whaling."

"For a month now we have dogged, delayed and disrupted the whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, and have no doubt that they have fallen far behind in their bid to slaughter 935 minke whales and 10 endangered fin whales. It is our hope that this struggle will inspire people to help us defend whales, so that it goes down in history as the last time the peaceful silence in the Sanctuary is broken by the sound of a grenade-tipped harpoon," Mr Rattenbury said.

Japan has welcomed Greenpeace's decision to leave the Southern Ocean. Hideki Moronuki from Japan's Fisheries Agency is pleased the whaling mission will no longer be obstructed: "Although Greenpeace say that they're activities are peaceful, their activities are really dangerous and illegal," he said.

Protesters spent much of their time in the Southern Ocean in inflatable Zodiac boats, placing themselves precariously between harpoons and whales. They escaped serious injury when the Japanese allegedly rammed their vessel, and when a protester was pulled overboard by a harpoon rope. Activists were also blasted out of boats by water cannons.

The incidents caused slanging matches between Greenpeace and Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research, both arguing they had evidence the other was at fault. The Japanese say their whale cull is scientific research and that they will continue their whaling.

Greenpeace Expedition Leader Shane Rattenbury has defended the risks taken by activists during the protests. "We feel it's been a justifiable risk somebody had to come down here and do something, politics and diplomacy have failed." he said.

Japan says it's too early to tell what effect Greenpeace has had on its current research mission. The Japan Whaling Association (JWA), which promotes and protects Japan's whaling culture says, "The moratorium on commercial whaling is an anomaly."

Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) says the whale research programs are conducted in accordance with the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

The ICR say they "do not, in any way, involve illegal whaling... under the IWC's no waste rules the by-products of the research program, including whale meat, are required so far as practicable to be processed. It is this aspect of the program which is often inaccurately sensationalised as illegal commercial whaling, reads a statement on their website.

Sea Shepherds head to Capetown

Sea Shepherd flag flying on the Farley Mowat

A second protest group - The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society - has also left the Southern Ocean. Their ship, the Farley Mowat is also headed for Cape Town. Captain Paul Watson said: "Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd together have completed the most intensive and ambitious campaign ever mounted against Antarctic whaling activities. For 15 days, whales were prevented from being killed."

Captain Watson said he made the decision to stay in the Southern Oceans for as long as possible to continue to chase the "illegal Japanese whaling fleet across the bottom of the world," he said. "After a 4,000 kilometre chase, the Farley Mowat had reached its limit."

The Sea Shepherds had made arrangements to refuel from a tanker scheduled to supply a fishing fleet near the French Kergulen Islands. However, the South African company supplying the tanker cancelled the tanker rendezvous, citing extreme weather conditions.

"At that point, there was no choice," said Captain Watson. "We were 2600 miles from the nearest port... We had to drop out of the chase and make for South Africa. We had no safety margin, in fact, we were short of fuel. The figures were ominous. Our chase suddenly became a race to survive."

After fuel conservation measures paid off the Farley Mowat is expected to make it to Cape Town. "We have just completed the longest voyage that this ship has made in its entire 48-year career," said 1st Officer Alex Cornelissen.

Whilst the Sea Shepherds and Greenpeace were not officially working together, 1st Officer Alex Cornelissen of the Farley Mowat said, "we believe we were working in cooperation with ...(Greenpeace). We had different roles, different tactics, and different strategies but the bottom line is that we were both opposing illegal whaling by Japan."

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society says it will return to the Southern Ocean next year with a another, faster vessel to confront the Japanese whaling fleet. The Farley Mowat may also return to Antarctica as a secondary confrontation vessel.

The whale hunting season will continue until the middle of March. Greenpeace say they targeted this particular hunt because Japan had decided to double its quota of minke whales this year in the internationally recognised Southern Ocean whale sanctuary.

"This is supposed to be a whale sanctuary and the Japanese government is the only one in the world which is defying the ban on whaling here," Rattenbury said. "Unfortunately so far we have seen 123 whales killed or brought back to the mother ship."

The Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research has a quota of 935 minke whales and 10 Fin whales. Fin whales are the second biggest animal on the planet, after the Blue whale. Greenpeace say they saw none killed during their actions. "So far we have only seen minkes slaughtered, we have seen no fin whales being killed," Rattenbury said.

The Greenpeace ships are expected to arrive in Cape Town around February 5th. The Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat is expected to arrive in Cape Town on January 25th 2006.

  Wikinews Australia has in-depth coverage of this issue: Southern Ocean whaling season (2005-2006)