Whalers leave the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary escorted by Sea Shepherd

Sea Shepherd ships the Steve Irwin and Bob Barker today escorted the Japanese whaling factory ship the Nisshin Maru and the Yushin Maru, Yushin Maru No. 2, Shonan Maru No. 2 past 60 degrees south and out of the southern ocean whale sanctuary around Antarctica.

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The Sun Laurel and Yushin Maru No 3 are 120 miles further north accompanied by the Sam Simon. The whaling season is coming to an end with plankton and krill that the whales feed upon reducing quickly, the storms of autumn setting in and the whales preparing to migrate north for the winter.

Paul Watson, an observer on the Steve Irwin, reckons he is 80% certain that the whale hunt is over for this year. Just the logistics of refuelling now, then returning to the sanctuary would take the best part of a week. A week the whalers really don't have.

"We're still escorting them, they're about two hundred miles (321 kilometres) north of 60 and the Sun Laurel, their tanker, is another two hundred miles north of the Nisshin Maru," he said. "So, they're on a course direct for Indonesia. So hopefully that means they're going home. We don't know for sure but they're definitely leaving the whaling ground". Paul Watson told the ABC.

Refuelling below 60 degrees south

Paul Watson said "Sea Shepherd will not intervene against any legal transfer of fuel between the Nisshin Maru and the Sun Laurel above sixty degrees South."

Sea Shepherd intervened on at least 3 occasions to stop the transfer of fuel below 60 degrees. Once when only the Sam Simon was present which only delayed for a number of hours refuelling of some of the harpoon ships. But the major conflicts occurred when Sea Shepherd blockaded and obstructed the Nisshin Maru factory ship from coming alongside the Panamanian registered Korean owned Sun Laurel to refuel.

Sea Shepherd alledge that heavy fuel oil (HFO) is used by the Japanese fleet and that refuelling with this fuel in Antarctic waters is illegal.

The whaling fleet regularly refuels illegally in the treaty zone below 60 degrees south. In October 2008 the whaling fleet's refueling and cargo vessel, Oriental Bluebird was deflagged following a ruling by Panamian Authorities. The maximum fine of 10,000 Balboas (US$10,000) was imposed on the owners of the ship, Hiyo Shipping Co. Ltd, in Japan who on October 8th removed its Panamanian registration and flag. Japan has ratified an international treaty which seeks to end the practice of 're-flagging' vessels in order to circumvent international environmental law.

Ninth District Court Injunction against Sea Shepherd

In this campaign Sea Shepherd crews did not throw any projectiles or deploy any propeller-fouling devices keeping within the spirit of the US 9th District Court injunction, although the injunction has no legal standing in international waters or Australian Antarctic territory between ships none of whom fly a US flag with the campaign being run from Australia.

However the Japanese whalers threw concussion grenades and hit the Sea Shepherd crewmembers and ships with high powered water cannons. All three Sea Shepherd ships were damaged after being rammed multiple times by the 8,000 ton Nisshin Maru.

On page 13 of the Kozinski Judgement it says "It is for Australia, not Sea Shepherd, to police Australia's court orders." And yet Australia is not in the Southern Ocean enforcing the 2008 Australian Federal Court Order and international law under the various treaties. Sea Shepherd claims a right to act to enforce international environmental laws under the UN World Charter for Nature (1982), whereby individuals singly and collectively have an obligation and duty to safeguard and act for the conservation of nature and the environment. Clearly the IWC has designated whaling sanctuaries in the southern ocean for the preservation of whales by prohibiting commercial whaling. The Antarctic Treaty system also calls for scientific cooperation and preserving the pristine Antarctic marine environment. Japan is a signatory to both these treaties. The UN World Charter for Nature (1982) says in particular:

" s. 21: States and, to the extent they are able, other public authorities, international organizations, individuals, groups and corporations shall:

  • (c) Implement the applicable international legal provisions for the conservation of nature, and the protection of the environment;
  • (d) Ensure that activities within their jurisdiction , or control do not cause damage to the natural systems located within other States or in the areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction;
  • (e) safeguard and conserve nature in areas beyond national jurisdiction. "

" S.24: Each person has a duty to act in accordance with the provisions of the present Charter; acting individually, in association with others or through participation in the political process, each person shall strive to ensure that the objectives and requirements of the present charter are met."

It can be clearly interpreted that Sea Shepherd are acting within an international legal framework to uphold international environmental law as contained in international treaties which signatory Governments have failed to act in adequately policing the actions of member states who have signed these treaties. The Australian Government has now filed a case to test the legality of the Japanese whaling program in the International Court of Justice.

Sea Shepherd has called for the US Ninth District Court case to be reviewed again before an eleven-judge Ninth Circuit Court panel.

Over 800 whales are swimming free this year due to Sea Shepherd

So how has Sea Shepherd's campaign goal of zero tolerance measured up this year?

The number of whales slaughtered has been very low this season. Paul Watson said "How many whales have been killed? Sea Shepherd can only confirm the death of two Minke whales. Some whales could have been taken on the run westward; the Nisshin Maru and the Yushin Maru No. 2 had two days to whale unobstructed until the Sea Shepherd ships caught up with them. We can confirm that the Yushin Maru and the Yushin Maru No. 3 did not kill any whales this season. These two vessels were under observation at all times."

"My conservative estimate of the number of whales killed this year is no more than 75. It could be much lower but certainly not higher. Last year I predicted the whalers would take 30% of their kill quota. The actual kill was 26%. Although Operation Zero Tolerance did not realize zero kills, this campaign will see the lowest take by the Japanese whaling fleet in the entire history of their Antarctic whale hunts." said Watson on the Sea Shepherd Australia website.

Sea Shepherd Australia director Bob Brown also called the campaign a success. "So it's been a huge success for Sea Shepherd in that there are some 900 whales now free to migrate north from Antarctica this summer, rather than being carted back to Tokyo as lumps of meat to put into the warehouses already full of 6,000 tonnes of unsalable whale meat in Tokyo."

But the campaign has come at a cost with Sea Shepherd USA and Paul Watson being declared as true pirates by a decision of the US Ninth District Court. This could have implications for their US assets and fundraising abilities. But the campaign this year was run fully by Sea Shepherd Australia, with the fleet of vessels sailing with Australian and Netherlands registration.

"We've had hundreds of thousands of dollars damage done to our ships by the ramming of the ships by the Japanese fleet," said director Dr Bob Brown. "We will be reliant on public help to refurbish that but it won't be long now before our ships are headed back to Melbourne and I know they're going to get a big welcome."