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Drama as campaigners engage Japanese whalers

Campaigners have been in Antarctic waters in recent weeks, monitoring - and attempting to disrupt - the activities of the Japanese whaling fleet.

While they will not actively cooperate - due, publicly at least, to tactical differences in relation to interpretations of nonviolence - Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd have both had vessels in the area, and both campaigners and whalers took a few physical and verbal knocks in mid-February.

Search and rescue

The drama began on 8 February when two Sea Shepherd vessels began pursuing the Japanese whaler the Nisshin Maru in the Ross Sea, and, according to Sea Shepherd reports, forced the factory ship to abandon its activities and attempt to leave the area. Later the same day crew members said they had poured noxious but non-toxic chemicals onto the flensing deck of the Maru and nailed plates over the blood drains.

Following one confrontation with the whaler, and after weather conditions deteriorated, two Sea Shepherd crew members were lost at sea in their RIB for eight hours. They were picked up after a search and rescue operation which involved all vessels in the area - including the Nisshin Maru and Greenpeace ship the Esperanza.

An abrupt halt

Days later the Nisshin Maru caught fire - the second time in its bloody history. The blaze was not believed to be connected to protest activity. As the only factory ship in the fleet, all whaling activity was halted.

Despite a crew member being killed in the incident and the ship full of heavy oil drifting perilously close to an Adelie penguin rookery, the Japanese fisheries agency refused offers of help from the Esperanza. The New Zealand government had called for the stricken vessel to be moved from the area immediately. On declining the offer of help from Greenpeace, the Japanese labelled the international environmental campaign “terrorists”, something Greenpeace called an “unhelpful response”.

Blood on their hands

The Japanese whaling fleet has been at sea since December and was expected to kill around 850 Minke and 10 Fin whales. Sea Shepherd's Farley Mowat and Robert Hunter withdrew from the area on 15 February for urgent refuelling. The Esperanza remains in the Ross Sea, close to the Nisshin Maru while the whalers attempt repairs to their vessel.

Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd maintain extensive blogs about their respective missions. See http://weblog.greenpeace.org/ oceandefenders and http://www.seashepherd.org

Topics: Green | Animal Rights