Yesterday was a hectic day in Commonwealth Bay, near Antarctica, in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. The Ady Gil, while stationary, was puposefully rammed at speed by the Japanese whaling security vessel, the Shonan Maru 2. And the Japanese whaling fleet, and the world discovered Sea Shepherds surprise new conservation ship, the Bob Baker, an ex-Norwegian Antarctic ice-class whaling vessel that was bought in 2009 and secretly refitted in South Africa.
Updates: Ady Gil sinks, Sea Shepherd pursuing Whaling Fleet | Sea Shepherd sues Japanese whalers for Piracy in Dutch Court | Real reasons for weak Australian Government response | Legality of Whaling | Legal action over spy flights
In the Antarctic early morning twilight at 0300 Hours, 6 January, the Bob Baker and Ady Gil found the Nisshin Maru and her four harpoon vessels. The Japanese whaling operation had been caught unawares. They had been focussing on the location of the Steve Irwin, paying New Zealander Glenn Inwood's Omeka Public Relations company to hire charter flights first in Albany, and then in Melbourne and Hobart to locate and follow the Steve Irwin.
The 'spy flights' from Albany were able to direct the Shonan Maru 2 to shadow the Steve Irwin when it left Fremantle so that the main whaling fleet could avoid a conflict and do their whale slaughter in peace. The straegy worked for two weeks, until the Steve Irwin returned to Hobart to refuel and reprovision. Leaving Hobart on New Years Eve, the Steve Irwin was able to slip past undercover of a thunderstorm. The spy flights from Melbourne and Hobart organised by Glenn Inwood, estimated to cost about $18,000, could not locate the Steve Irwin due to the low cloud cover.
The Sea Shepherd also had some unexpected assistance departing Hobart from six people on a small motorboat, self identified as 'Taz Patrol', who patrolled the perimeter of the Australian Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) locating the Yushin Maru and twittering it's location to the world (and Sea Shepherd).
Back to the Southern Ocean. So with the whaling fleet located, New Zealand skipper of the Ady Gil, Pete Bethune, drove his powerboat around the Nisshan Maru whaling factory ship, attempting to foul the factory ship's propellors. Evidently only one bauble of rotten butter reached the deck of the Nisshan Maru, but the green laser photonic disrupters were also used. In return the Nisshan Maru fired up its LRAD acoustic weapon and used its water cannon. Stalemate.
So the Ady Gil retreats with the Nisshan Maru fleeing. Three harpoon ships and the Sea Shepherd's new vessel the Bob Baker passes the Ady Gil to chase the Nisshan Maru, while most of the Ady Gil crew sit on the roof with the vessel in a stationary idle. The videos show the Japanese harpoon vessel, the Shonan Maru 2 charging the Ady Gil with water canons blazing. Peter Bethune tells his crew to prepare for a drenching, little realizing the danger he and his crew were facing. While the water cannon sprays the roof of the Ady Gil blinding the crew, the Shonan Maru turns sharply to starboard right at the Ady Gil. In the few moments before impact Peter Bethune appears to gun the Ady Gil, but it is far too late with Shonan Maru 2 slicing 4 metres off the bow of the Ady Gil, forcing the powerboat momentarily underwater and immersing the crew in the icy waters holding on to the roof for their lives.
According to Peter Bethune the Ady Gil was dragged 10-15 metres before shearing the hull with the Shonan Maru tacking back to port.
Even after impact and seperation of the ships, the Shonan Maru 2 continues to pound the bedraggled crew hanging on to the top of the Ady Gil with water canon blasts.
The Institute for Cetecean Research refused to accept responsibility fo the ramming saying in a media release "At about 12:30JST today the New Zealand-registered watercraft Ady Gil collided with the Japanese Antarctic whale research (JARPA II) vessel Shonan Maru No. 2. The collision resulted in damage to the Ady Gil disabling it for navigation."
The Ady Gil's skipper, New Zealander Pete Bethune, insisted the vessel was stationary and farewelling fellow activists on the Bob Barker when the incident happened. Mr Bethune told The Age that the 490-tonne Japanese ship turned toward the 18-tonne Ady Gil from about 75 metres away. ''We thought they were going to turn a water cannon on us and I told my crew to brace for that,'' he said. ''Then they T-boned my boat. It was just massive ... It's a miracle we all survived.''
Initial reports indicated the six aboard were uninjured and able to board the Bob Barker from the floating rear section, however one person has been diagnosed with some broken ribs sustained in the ramming.
''Today is a clear example of how the Japanese don't give a shit,'' Mr Bethune said. ''But this is the end of whaling. You can't go around saying you're trying to conduct scientific research when you're prepared to drive into other people's boats.''
Fellow crew member Laurens de Groot said: ''They were trying to kill us, ramming us like that in one of the most hostile environments in the world.''
Sydney-born activist Jason Stewart, a former policeman who now lives in New Zealand who was on board the Ady Gil. He said the protest vessel had become low on fuel and it was forced to stop its pursuit of the Nisshun Maru "We were basically disengaged and we were waving goodbye to the other Sea Shepherd vessel, the Bob Barker, which was going to continue the pursuit of the Nisshin Maru," he said. "I was inside the boat at this point and suddenly I could hear one of the Japanese boats coming at us. I took a look through a window and I could see the bow of the Shonan Maru No. 2 coming straight at us and then it just hit us and there was a big crunch, a hell of a bang. The next thing I remember was seeing daylight through a big hole."
Jason Stewart made a mayday call from the Ady Gil and said the Japanese made no effort to help. "We were just sitting ducks and they just took us out," he said. "I was only 4m from where the hull took the nose off our boat. "It can't have been anything but a deliberate attack."
So what was the response of the Australian Government? Peter Garret faced a gaggle of journalists and said "we call on all parties to exercise absolute restraint, because safety at sea is the number one priority." To a question asked about what the Government is doing regarding the Japanese whaling fleet breaching the Antarctic Treaty by refuelling in an area not far from a major penguin colony, Garrett deflected by not answering.
While the Rudd Government deployed the Oceanic Viking in 2008 to collect evidence on Japanese whaling, two years of "diplomatic talking" have passed with no change. Garrett said "in the event that we cannot resolve this issue, the option for legal action against the Japanese, which has been made clear by the Prime Minister." Peter Garrett continues to waffle on with the Government increasingly being seen as ineffective on this issue, despite a Federal Court decision finding whaling in the southern ocean whale sanctuary and Australian Antarctic territory is illegal under Australian law.
"The Japanese whalers have now escalated this conflict very violently," said Captain Paul Watson. "If they think that our remaining two ships will retreat from the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in the face of their extremism, they will be mistaken. We now have a real whale war on our hands now and we have no intention of retreating." Captain Paul Watson is onboard the Steve Irwin racing towards the area at 16 knots but still some five hundred miles to the north.
"This is a substantial loss for our organization," said Captain Watson. "The Ady Gil, the former Earthrace, represents a loss of almost two million dollars. However the loss of a single whale is of more importance to us and we will not lose the Ady Gil in vain. This blow simply strengthens our resolve, it does not weaken our spirit." he said.
- The Age, Jan 7, 2009 - Protest boat destroyed
- Sea Shepherd News, Jan 5, 2009 - Japanese Whalers Ram Sea Shepherd Ship Ady Gil
- Institute of Cetecean Research - website
- Peter Garrett - Australian Minister for the Environment - Collison in the Southern Ocean, Japanese whaling, Murray-Darling Basin
- Two photos by Sea Shepherd, photo of Barker by ICR