In the icy Ross sea, off the coast of Antarctica, Sea Shepherd Australia’s ship, the “Bob Barker,” collided with the Japanese whaling vessel, “Yushin Maru No.3,” while protesting the annual slaughter of approximately 1,000 whales. Although no one was injured, the collision fueled the ongoing battle between anti-whaling protestors, and the Japanese government.
Conflicting reports have been issued in Japan, with the Japanese government saying that the vessels belonging to marine conservationists of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, deliberately tried to sabotage their whale research fleet. In opposition, Sea Shepherd argues that the the Japanese ship Yushin Maru deliberately crashed into the Bob Barker vessel, which is named after the retired host of the popular game show “The Price is Right,” longtime animal activist, and supporter of the Sea Shepherd.
“The Sea Shepherd ships Steve Irwin and Bob Barker were both unprovokedly attacked by three harpoon ships belonging to the Japanese whale poaching fleet,” says Captain Peter Hammarstedt of the Bob Barker, in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). “These harpoon ships came in heavy and hard. They hit my bow with 300 metres of steel cable with the express intent of causing damage to my rudder and propellers. Thankfully because of a lot of maneuvering I was able to avoid being entangled, but on one occasion one of the harpoon ships came so close that they ended up colliding with my vessel.”
In a statement issued through the Japanese embassy in Canberra, the Tokyo-based Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), which sponsors the annual whale hunt, claims that “activists dragged ropes in front of the Japanese fleet, and the Bob Barker rammed into one of the Japanese ships.” In defence, Sea Shepherd’s spokesperson Sid Chakravarthi responded saying that “It’s an absolute lie.” Although Sea Shepherd did use steel ropes to try and stop the whaling ship, it was in self-defence.
Japan was heavily involved in commercial whaling until the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling went into effect in 1986. An exception under the rule allows the annual killing of 1000 whales for scientific purposes. Japan continues to hunt whales using the scientific research provision in the agreement, which is currently conducted by the Institute of Cetacean Research. Critics who oppose the annual whale hunt, argue that the Japanese research program is unnecessary, and a thinly disguised cover for a commercial whaling operation. They claim that the meat is sold for food in shops and restaurants, and not used for scientific research.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt says that both the Japanese whaling vessels and the anti-whaling protestors must abide by the law. “These are dangerous waters, nobody can play any games with safety, nobody can play any games with international maritime law,” says Hunt. “[I]f there is evidence that either party has breached international maritime law we will raise it.”
Until the Federal Government finds out more details, and the International Court of Justice issues a decision, the verdict is out as to who was responsible for the collision. Regardless of the outcome, scientists, environmental organizations, and other anti-whaling protestors say that the continuation of Japan’s whale hunt is an international disgrace that is no longer tolerated by surrounding nations.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons: courtesy of Customs and Border Protection Service, Commonwealth of Australia.