It is day 6 back at sea and we get word that our second vessel, the Bob Barker, has located the whaling fleet and is closing in. One of the three harpoon ships, the Yushin Maru 2 tries to stop the Bob Barker from positioning itself behind the factory ship Nisshin Maru, better known as the 'floating abattoir'. Once stuck behind this monstrous ship, the whaling operation will be stopped as no whales can be transferred from the harpoon ships across the slipway onto the flensing deck for
'processing'. Or should I say 'research'? The Yushin Maru 2 collided with the Bob Barker, causing damage to the Bob's hull. The harpoon ship then backed off.
Meanwhile, on our ship the Steve Irwin, everyone is excited to hear the news and preparations are being made for possible action to take place within days. Having worked on the ship for months to get it ready for sea and then to try and find the whalers, this is the one bit of news everybody is waiting to hear. In this enormous ocean we have located the whaling fleet. Our other ship is already blocking the slipway of the processing ship and we will be joining in soon. In 2002 when Sea Shepherd set out for Antarctica for the first time to oppose Japanese whaling operations, no whaling ship was ever seen. In the Southern Ocean, which is the largest bit of unbroken ocean in the world, trying to find a few ships is literally like looking for needles in a haystack. Sure, we have a better idea of where they operate than 8 years ago and we sometimes get information from other vessels if they see them, but this is a huge achievement.
The next day the fleet changes course and starts moving directly towards us. At this rate we might meet them early in the morning. I keep saying to myself I should better get some sleep as we could be looking at a very long day of action. Nevertheless I can't sleep. Everyone, myself
included is excited about finally being with the fleet and the prospect of actions. Our captain, Paul Watson, always says that 90% of success is showing up and the only way to stop whaling in Antarctica is by being here where it happens. And so far, Sea Shepherd's story in Antarctica is one of success. This is Paul's 6th Antarctic campaign and year after year the effects of the actions of him and his crew are getting more and more profound. If you want to shut down whalers you have to speak their language, in this case one of profit and loss. As long as we can ensure
that their profits are down and losses up, one day it will not be worth their while to come down. In the last two years Sea Shepherd has halved the whaling quota's by disrupting the hunt and they are feeling the financial pressure back in Tokyo. A public spending review committee appointed by the Japanese government recently proposed to slash funding to the ICR, which runs the whaling programme and more Japanese public figures have spoken out against whaling then ever before.
Once you start feeling a slight shudder through the ship you know what lies outside: ice. The ship is not ice-strengthened so we have to continue with the utmost caution. Outside on the deck I'm looking at ice on the starboard side, port side, forward of us and everywhere else where there used to be open ocean. 'Look, right there!' Three weddell seals relax on the ice. Their bold bodies lie on the ice sheets in stark contrast with the rest of the white landscape. 'Oh aren't they cute!'
Cute indeed though not impressed with our presence. One seal growls angrily at us. Especially working in the engine room, which tends to be a pretty uninspiring place, moments like these give new energy to keep going and remind us all what we are here to protect.
Next morning I get woken up by people rushing through the companionways. I stumble out of bed, open the porthole and I look straight at the huge factory ship, which is right next to us. This huge ship, with water cannons blasting from all sides, this is the one. This is the mean killing machine, the largest whale abattoir in the world, which we are looking to sabotage. It is a beautiful sight to see our two black ships in formation behind the Nisshin Maru. We've got both sides of the slipway covered. Try coming in with a harpoon ship now!
We approach the 60 degree latitude boundary as we move in along the Nisshin Maru's port side. Announcements blast from our powerful PA system: 'This is a whale sanctuary, your operations here are illegal. We order you to leave the area immediately'. We repeat the message in Japanese. Our water cannon gives their bridge windows a clean and we escort them out of the Antarctic Treaty Zone and more importantly, out the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Two days later the Nisshin Maru changes course again, turns around and heads straight back for the sanctuary.
The factory ship continues to be followed by both our ships and three harpoon ships are behind us. Later that afternoon I make my way outside when we are nearing the sanctuary boundary. We move alongside the factory ship again and warn them to stay out. While I stand on the aft deck, the Nisshin Maru comes closer. Water cannons are blasting from both ships and the sky fills with a mist of water spray. All I can see of the other ship is a dark mist and before I realise it, the Nisshin Maru is about one meter from our deck railings. 'They are going to ram us! Get over here!' I quickly turn around as a giant swell of water throws itself over the deck where we are standing. I'm holding onto a railing and a fellow crew member as we both get soaking wet. I turn to look and see the ships slowly pulling apart. Giant letters spelling RESEARCH are moving in front of us, each one about the size of a small house.
The harpoon ships aren't sitting by quietly and start to move. The Bob Barker moves in between us to protect our helicopter from their water cannons. We deploy the small boats too. Shortly after a huge cat and mouse game erupts between whaling ships, the Bob Barker, us and our small boats buzzing all over the place. The helicopter keeps a close eye on it all from the air. From all sides you can see ships making tight and abrupt manoeuvres. There are some near collisions. Everyone is on the lookout in case we are to defend our helicopter while landing or if we are to retrieve the small boat. A long thick rope is towed from our stern which will keep the harpoon ships at bay as there is a good chance of it getting entangled in their propellers. The entire confrontation lasts for nearly 7 hours. Back in the engine room during the night watch we reflect on a long and eventful day.
During the next few days we continue to escort the factory ship and stand watch at its slipway. Under our supervision no whale will make it up there. In an press interview our captain makes it clear that if they are to start whaling again and attempt to transfer a whale, collisions will be inevitable. No whaling has taken place for well over a week.
After the night watches in the engine room I tend to go straight to bed and get as much sleep as possible before the next watch starts 8 hours later. However, this morning is different. After the Ady Gil, our high-tech trimaran, was rammed and sunk by a harpoon ship a month earlier, its captain Pete Bethune has moved in with us. It seems that diplomacy on its own is going to do little to get him and his crew the justice they deserve. The deliberate collision caused by the Japanese ship endangered the life of his crew as well as causing the loss of the 3 million dollar vessel. Pete was a man with a plan and tonight he would set out for mission impossible: go out into the freezing waters of the Southern Ocean on a small jet ski, board a ship moving at speed and make a citizens arrest on its captain. The Shonan Maru 2 which had sunken the Ady Gil was still following us. Only a few miles behind us, Pete was determined to get his justice and put diplomatic pressure on the Japanese and New Zealand goverments to finally act against the illegal and dangerous actions of the whaling fleet.
Everyone fills the crew mess to say their goodbyes to Pete and wish him all the best for the mission. 'Your courage and determination is admirable' I say. 'Without you topping up the oil everyday we wouldn't be here' he smiles. Since Pete joined the ship I've gotten to know him as a jolly and ambitious character. If there is anyone cut out for this job, it is him. Some of the crew had their doubts on whether the risky plan would work, but this morning Pete is so self-assured of success that he eliminates any doubt any of us had. After the jet ski is lowered in the water, we eagerly await any news. It all goes remarkably smooth.
He falls during the first boarding attempt but was back on the jet ski again in minutes. In the second attempt he cuts through the security netting with a knife and climbs onboard. He then proceeds to walk up to the very top deck where he waits (without being noticed) for the remainder of night. At the break of daylight we launch the helicopter. With the cameras rolling Pete makes his way to the bridge to make contact with the Shonan Maru crew. He knocks on the bridge door and waits. Someone opens the door looking amazingly bewildered. Checking over the side; no boat to be seen. How did this man get here? Pete continues to hand over a letter ordering the arrest of the captain for sinking his vessel and for payment of $3 million in damages. The Japanese crew member tries to shoo Pete away and then goes back inside, leaving Pete to make his own in. This is the last we see of him. The media has since reported that Pete will be taken back to Japan for questioning and possible prosecution for 'acts of piracy'.
We are stuck in ice again, lots of ice. This time it is not just us but the Nisshin Maru too. It takes hours of slow manoeuvring and avoiding the larger of the ice chunks, before we are in open water again. During the day I work outside, pumping lubrication oil into a tank from our spare barrels. An albatross lands on deck and walks towards me. It walks over my feet as if I'm not there and settles for a nice spot in between my legs by cuddling up against one of my boots. I stand there frozen, not sure what to do. Whenever I move, it moves with me. This beautiful bird, which travels thousands of miles along its migration routes has possibly never seen a human being before. It struck me that although we as humans push numerous species of animals and plants to extinction in our ever greater need to develop, grow and keep the profits up, it is me that is the alien species here, invading this bird's habitat.
That evening, running low on fuel, we are forced to head back to land. With whaling stopped for over 3 weeks, this is the longest and most successful anti-whaling campaign in the Southern Ocean to date. For the last few weeks we were right where we wanted to be most. The one place
where we can be sure that all illegal whaling operations in the Southern Ocean have stopped. It is here, right behind the Nisshin Maru that our months of preparation and hard work pay off. One by one the whaling ships that surrounded us before have dropped off our radar screen. Three harpoon ships sailed off over the horizon not be seen again and after Pete Bethune boarded the Shonan Maru, this one too is out of action. I stood outside on deck last night and looked at the factory ship in front of us for one last time before we turned and headed back to port. I felt a great sense of pride, to know that in the 21st century it is still a committed, dedicated and hard working group of ordinary people that can bring about the change needed to keep this planet healthy and sane. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.
Sea Shepherd: The Battle Unfolds
Sea Shepherd: Update from sea
Sea Shepherd vows to continue campaign after whalers destroy Ady Gil
reposting from Wietse's email update