As members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society christened their newest vessel, Gojira, in Fremantle, Australia, 5,000 miles to the north, the Japanese whaling fleet had yet to leave port, with the whalers' factory ship still in port at Innoshima, Japan. Never before has the fleet been this late in departing, normally departing for the Southern Ocean between November 6th and November 19th.
The delay for the whaling fleet appears to be that they have yet to secure a refueling and supply ship for this season's hunt. The Hiyo Maru No.2, which previously assumed this role, was sold by its owner in August to be scrapped.
"Their challenge is finding a company willing to charter a vessel for the Southern Ocean, risk harassment from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and be associated with the illegal poaching activities of the Japanese whaling fleet," Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson wrote in a commentary last week.
“I think the Japanese P.R. strategy of labeling Sea Shepherd as a ‘violent eco-terrorist’ organization has backfired,” said Watson. “They have scared the companies they do business with and they are frightening their own crews. They are now paying higher insurance premiums and making less money."
Despite the late start, there are no indications whalers plan to call off this year's hunt. In fact, they've indicated they will be stepping up security in preparation for harassment by Sea Shepherd. According to Nobutaka Tsutsui, senior vice minister for agriculture, forestry and fisheries, the Japanese fleet will soon depart for the whaling grounds in the Southern Ocean — and for the first time since 2007, they will be doing so with armed Japanese Coast Guard officers onboard the whaling vessels.
"We will be waiting for them"
Now more than ever, the Sea Shepherds feel they have the law on their side. In May, Australia initiated a legal action at the International Court of Justice in The Hague to end Japan's research whaling in the Antarctic. And for the first time in Sea Shepherd’s 33 years of campaigns, the group will have an Australian-registered vessel with Australian crewmembers, upholding a 2008 Australian Federal Court ruling against whaling in Australian protected waters.
The new vessel, the 115-foot Gojira, was acquired to replace the Ady Gil, the Sea Shepherd boat destroyed by a Japanese whaling vessel in a collision last season. Like the Ady Gil, the Gojira is a high-speed monohull trimaran with the ability to catch any vessel in the Japanese fleet.
“Having Fremantle as a homeport for Gojira, and flying the Australian flag, optimizes Australia as the most passionate defender of whales in the world,” said Sea Shepherd’s Australian Director Jeff Hansen.
Gojira is currently en route to Hobart, Tasmania to join the rest of the Sea Shepherd fleet as part of their 2010-2011 campaign, Operation No Compromise. If and when the Japanese fleet does eventually arrive at their whaling grounds, Sea Shepherd says they will be ready.
"[F]or the first time in history, Sea Shepherd’s fleet will be in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary before the Japanese whaling fleet arrives," says Capt. Watson.
"We will be waiting for them this year, and the sooner we find them, the sooner we can shut them down."
Photo credits: 1. Courtesy of Sea Shepherd, © Eye In The Sky Magazine; 2. Sea Shepherd