Damaged anti-whaling boat left to sink in pristine Antarctic waters; protesters seek hunters

By Rod Mcguirk, AP
Friday, January 8, 2010

Anti-whaling boat left to sink in Antarctica

CANBERRA, Australia — Conservationists abandoned a sinking ship wrecked in a confrontation with Japanese whalers to resume their aggressive campaign to stop the hunt Friday amid concerns about contamination of pristine Antarctic waters.

The bow of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Ady Gil was sheared off Wednesday in a crash with a far larger Japanese whaling ship — the most serious clash in what has become an annual confrontation off the frozen continent.

The whaler, Shonan Maru No. 2, suffered no apparent damage. Both sides blame the other for the crash, which occurred as the Ady Gil harassed the Japanese fleet.

Japan kills about 1,200 whales a year in Antarctica under what it says is a scientific program allowed by the International Whaling Commission, despite a moratorium on commercial whaling. Critics say the program is a front for illegal whaling, and Sea Shepherd sends ships to Antarctica each season to try to stop the hunt — an effort portrayed on the Animal Planet TV series “Whale Wars.”

Amid fears the Ady Gil was sinking, a second Sea Shepherd ship, the Bob Barker, began towing it Thursday toward French research base Dumont d’Urville, 185 miles (300 kilometers) to the south.

But the tow rope snapped en route, so the Ady Gil was left to sink and the Bob Barker resumed its pursuit of the Japanese whalers, the Bob Barker’s first officer Peter Hammarsedt said. The ship was named for the former TV game show host, who donated $5 million to buy the Bob Barker.

“We made the call that the vessel would sink in two to three hours, and so at that point we decided to once again take up our pursuit of the Japanese whaling fleet,” Hammarsedt told The Associated Press by satellite phone.

Hammarsedt said the sunken boat should not leave an oil slick. “We spent the greater part of yesterday transferring all the fuel, oil and batteries and any other environmental contaminates to begin towing,” he said.

But Antarctic environmental expert Alan Hemmings said it would have been safer to scuttle the stricken vessel deep at sea.

“Dumont d’Urville is one of the most important bird breeding locations in the Antarctic,” Hemmings said. “Any risk of fouling would have been worse there than in open ocean.”

Hemmings, an associate professor at the University of Canterbury’s Antarctic studies center, said he was concerned by the increasingly violent clashes during Sea Shepherd’s six-year campaign to prevent whaling in the Antarctic Ocean during the southern summers.

Conservationists and whalers’ ships have collided five times, with four of those crashes in the past two seasons.

“Whilst I abhor whaling, it does seem that this particular set of tactics have quite a lot of flaws in them, not the least of these is the environmental risk,” Hemmings said.

Sea Shepherd received support Friday from activist Ric O’Barry, the former dolphin trainer for the TV series “Flipper” and star of “The Cove,” a U.S. film about killing dolphins in the Japanese town of Taiji.

“This violent attack in the whale sanctuary proves that the Japan government and its Fisheries Agency have no regard for whales, dolphins or the people who want to save them,” O’Barry said in an e-mailed response to questions.

“Japan’s bogus scientific whale research and Japan’s war against the ocean’s wildlife must end,” O’Barry said.

Hammarsedt said Sea Shepherd’s attempt to salvage the Ady Gil had been responsible and blamed the Japanese for any environmental risk.

Japan, however, put the blame squarely on the conservationists.

“The series of sabotage acts by the Sea Shepherd were very dangerous and risked the life and safety of the Japanese crew members. These acts should be strongly condemned,” said Yasuhisa Kawamura, deputy spokesman for Japan’s Foreign Ministry.

“The collision took place at the end of the incessant and dangerous disturbance acts taken by Sea Shepherd,” he said.

Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett on Friday ramped up pressure on Japan to end whaling by threatening legal action if diplomatic efforts do not show results before the next International Whaling Commission summit in June.

Australia says it could argue that Japan’s whaling is illegal before the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

Kawamura said that the issue of whaling should not be settled at sea but instead discussed at international forums, including the International Whaling Commission.

The whaling is conducted in international waters, but usually within the huge patch of ocean that is designated Australia’s maritime rescue zone and that Canberra considers a whale sanctuary.

The whalers have changed tactics this season, sending boats to tail the Sea Shepherd vessels and reporting their positions so the main fleet can keep its distance.

The Ady Gil became the first of the three Sea Shepherd vessels to find the factory ship, Nisshin Maru, on Wednesday before the crash.

will not be displayed