Fire aboard Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru ends Antarctic killing early
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2007:
Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research whaling within
Antarctic waters ended for the winter on February 24, 2007–far
short of meeting a self-assigned quota of 935 minke whales, 50
humpback whales, and 50 fin whales. The latter are both
internationally designated endangered species.
“At around 17:30 today,” posted the crew of the Greenpeace
vessel Esperanza, “the expedition leader of the Japanese
government’s whaling fleet radioed, informing us that the Nisshin
Maru–disabled nine days ago by fire–plans to sail in three hours.
“This is a relief,” the posting continued. “After nine long
days, the whaling fleet is finally leaving the Ross Sea, and the
unsullied environment of the Southern Ocean.”
The Nisshin Maru on February 15 caught fire in a below-deck
processing area. Most of the 148-member crew were evacuated,
leaving 26 to fight the blaze. One crewman, Kazutaka Makita, 27,
was killed by the fire.
The catcher vessel Kyoshin Maru returned his remains to
Japan, ahead of the rest of the five-ship whaling fleet.
The Nisshin Maru, the only working “factory ship” for whale
processing left in the world, also caught fire in 1998, en route to
the Antarctic. It made a controversial emergency stop at Noumea in
New Caledonia. Reportedly most of the Nisshin Maru electrical parts
and wiring were replaced.
The Esperanza and the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea
stood by this year while the Nisshin Maru lay “rafted up” for
emergency repairs between the tanker Oriental Bluebird and the
catcher vessel Yushin Maru.
Conservationists feared that a bad turn of weather might
force the Japanese ships to separate, and that the Nisshin Maru,
without power, might hit an iceberg. The Nisshin Maru, with more
than 340,000 gallons of oil aboard, was reportedly about 110 miles
from the world’s largest rookery of Adele penguins.
Greenpeace offered to tow the Nisshin Maru to safety with the
Esperanza, a former Russian firefighting ship, whose master had 10
years of salvage towing experience.
But Japan refused Greenpeace help. A spokesperson called
Greenpeace “terrorists” for trying to disrupt whaling–although
Greenpeace has emphasized a conciliatory approach this year.
A Greenpeace online travelogue about Japanese whaling
communities, posted at www.whalelove.org/wagon for 10 weeks
coinciding with the whaling voyage, included an episode in which a
Spanish visitor to an elderly Japanese woman’s home eats whale meat
with her and proclaims it delicious.
“We are making very clear that we have no problem with
Japanese culture or eating whales,” Greenpeace spokesperson Emiliano
Ezcurra, of Argentina, told Agence France Presse. While opposed to
whaling in Antarctic waters, Ezcurra added, Greenpeace does not
object to coastal Japanese “subsistence whaling,” a longtime target
of protest by Greenpeace cofounder Paul Watson, who broke with
Greenpeace in 1977 to form the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Flying the “Jolly Roger” as self-proclaimed pirates, the Sea
Shepherd ships Farley Mowat and Robert Hunter stalked the Japanese
fleet for weeks. Barred from registration by six nations in six
months, the Farley Mowat sailed from Australia only hours before
losing Belize flagging, while the Robert Hunter’s British
registration expired just as the ships returned to Melbourne in
The Sea Shepherds finally caught the whalers on February 8.
Initial skirmishing included tossing stink bombs on the deck of the
Nisshin Maru, attempts to plug the ship’s blood drains, and
attempts to foul the propeller with a cable.
On February 9, a Sea Shepherd inflatable vessel piloted by
Karl Neilsen, 29, of Australia, and John Gravois, 24, of the
U.S., collided with the Nisshin Manu and suffered a cracked hull.
Neilsen and Gravois anchored the inflatable to an iceberg and awaited
rescue, hidden in heavy fog for about eight hours, with a
Watson issued a maritime distress call, obliging the Nisshin
Maru to join in the search until Neilsen and Gravois were found.
On February 12 the Robert Hunter crossed in front of the
catcher vessel Kaiko Maru as it pursued a pod of whales, according
to a Sea Shepherd press release. This allowed the whales to escape.
“The Kaiko Maru then came alongside the Robert Hunter and
swerved into the starboard side to push it into some ice,” the Sea
“The Robert Hunter’s hull was penetrated, and a large hole
was ripped into the forward compartment area above the main deck.
“Both ships then moved into the ice,” the Sea Shepherds
continued, “and began to work their way out of the floe, when the
Kaiko Maru backed up and rammed into the stern port side of the
Robert Hunter.” (See page one photo.)
Within another day, low fuel forced both the Farley Mowat
and Robert Hunter to return to Melbourne–but not before Watson
threatened to ram the Farley Mowat into the intake ramp at the stern
of the Nisshin Maru.
“The Sea Shepherd ships were about 1,000 miles from the
Japanese whaling fleet when the fire erupted in the factory area of
the Nisshin Maru,” Watson posted on February 17. “Despite this
there are already accusatory rumors.”
On landing, police swarmed over the Robert Hunter, a former
Scottish fisheries patrol vessel.
“They’re assessing the damage to our hull to try to determine
exactly who rammed whom,” Watson said. “Our position simply is that
if we had rammed the Kaiko Maru then we would admit to ramming it.
We have no problem with that. On this occasion, though,” Watson
said, “it was the Japanese ship that deliberately targeted us. The
video footage and forensic evidence of the damage will show who
“We were hit below the water line,” Watson added, “and
will need to get the ship lifted out of the water” for drydock
repairs, expected to cost about $50,000.
The Robert Hunter, after refueling and resupplying in
Australia, was scheduled to sail to the North Atlantic to protest
against the recent Icelandic resumption of whaling and the Atlantic
Canada seal hunt. Repairing the hull, however, may keep it in
Melbourne until next winter, when the Japanese whaling fleet is
expected to return to Antarctic waters.
The Farley Mowat, launched in 1958 as a Norwegian
anti-submarine patrol vessel, is to be retired after 10 years as the
Sea Shepherd flagship.