JAPANESE vessels left Friday, November 18, to conduct what Tokyo calls “research whaling” in the Antarctic Ocean through March.
Japan is planning to hunt 333 Antarctic minke whales in its second whaling expedition in the Antarctic Ocean since an international court ruled against the practice in 2014, the Fisheries Agency said.
Responding to the International Court of Justice ruling, Japan submitted to the International Whaling Commission a new whaling plan to cut catches of minke whales by two-thirds to 333.
In fiscal 2014 through March 2015, the country only conducted visual surveys but resumed whaling based on the new plan the following year.
Nonprofit organization Sea Shepherd Australia has expressed its intention to block Japan’s whaling, and the agency is planning to monitor the group’s activities from one of its patrol ships.
Two whaling vessels — the 724-ton Yushin Maru and 747-ton Yushin Maru No. 2 — left the port in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on Friday morning. They will soon join two other whaling ships and the 8,145-ton mother ship Nisshin Maru to form a fleet with 185 crew members in total.
Also last week, the $12 million custom-built vessel, christened Ocean Warrior, made its first port of call in Australia on Tuesday, tying up for a customs inspection at Melbourne’s Williamstown dock and preparing for a protest campaign against Japan’s whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean.
“Going down there, it’s been really difficult going head-to-head with the harpoon ships because they could always run away,” the ship’s captain, Adam Meyerson, said.
But he said the Ocean Warrior – with its four engines and specially-installed long range fuel tanks at the expense of extra accommodation berths or storage – was capable of speeds to outrun any ship in Japan’s whaling fleet.
About the size of an Olympic swimming pool, the ship is also equipped with a helicopter landing pad and a water cannon that Sea Shepherd said can spray about 20,000 litres each minute.
The new ship – and the likelihood of high-seas protest clashes over the summer – looks set to raise the tension around Japan’s decision to resume killing whales after the hunt being ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice.
Chinese television was among the media at Williamstown, with Beijing and Tokyo in regular dispute over questions of international law.
Australia last month successfully lobbied for greater international scrutiny of Japan’s claim its whale slaughter is for “scientific” purposes, with Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg hailing the decision as a “big win” at the summit of the International Whaling Commission.
But Japan last week declared a new plan for whaling in the north Pacific Ocean, with the hunt likely to commence before the commission meets again in two years.
Japan will also serve as the next chair of the whaling commission – a move conservation groups have likened to “putting the fox in charge of the hen house”.
Darren Kindleysides from the Australian Marine Conservation Society said Japan had ignored more than 20 resolutions from the commission calling for a stop to so-called “scientific” whaling.
Sea Shepherd has been routinely blasted by Japan for endangering life at sea, with the protest group controversially attempting to disrupt Japan’s whalers.
The new vessel was built this year after a charity grant from the Dutch lottery, and was designed by the same shipbuilders that are constructing a new Antarctic ship for the Australian government.
Tied at the same dock is another Sea Shepherd ship, the larger Steve Irwin, dating back to the 1970s and looking far more battered from years of service in rough seas.
At the helm of the Ocean Warrior – what Mr Meyerson calls his office – a trio of digital screens and joy sticks at the fingertips better resemble a space craft, especially compared to the old wooden steering wheel of the Steve Irwin.
Tracking the whaling fleet is the protest group’s biggest challenge, more so after Japan declared larger hunting grounds.
Mr Meyerson – a Californian about to embark on his fourth protest campaign in the Southern Ocean – said the Ocean Warrior could have travelled from Amsterdam to Australia on a single tank of fuel.
The ship had sailed to Australia with a crew of 10, he said, but would likely take a few more when departing later in the month for the Southern Ocean.
Sea Shepherd Australia is asking for funds to help support Operation Nemesis this season: Support Operation Nemesis.
Story Source: The Age/Japan Times