The Cold War at the Bottom of the Planet to Save the Whales

Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
On Board the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin

The Australian Navy may just have to wade in to keep the peace.

The dark waters of the deep Southern Ocean may be icy cold but tensions are heating up under increasing pressures as the ships of the Japanese whaling fleet experience more and more aggravation from the whale defending groups Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

The morning of January 17th, 2008 witnessed the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin in hot pursuit of five vessels of the Japanese whaling fleet. In front of the Sea Shepherd ship is the supply vessel Oriental Bluebird being escorted by the whaling vessels Kaiko Maru, Kyoshin Maru No. 2, and Yushin Maru. All four vessels are heading east.

To the south of the Steve Irwin heading eastward, also on a parallel course, is a fifth Japanese vessel, the Yushin Maru No. 2 with two Sea Shepherd hostages onboard.

The Steve Irwin is keeping track of the movements of the surrounding Japanese whalers by radar and regular helicopter surveillance flights. All these ships are in the area along the 60 degree Southern line of latitude and 80 degree Eastern Longitude. This is about 2130 nautical miles Southwest of Fremantle, Western Australia.

Behind this small flotilla of ships at a distance of nearly 600 miles is the Japanese Factory ship the Nisshin Maru shadowed by the Greenpeace ship Esperanza. Both these ships are heading directly for the Steve Irwin and all the ships of the Japanese whaling fleet.

Within two to three days all of these ships may be in one spot and it is an area outside of the boundaries of the whale killing grounds, deep in international waters where the laws are slipperier than the fish swimming below.

What is happening?

The Japanese are not whaling and have not been whaling since January 12th when they began to run from the Esperanza and the Steve Irwin heading northwestward. The Nisshin Maru took a course straight towards South Africa but then only two days ago when the Sea Shepherd crew boarded the Yushin Maru No. 2, the factory ship did an immediate 180 degree turn and headed back towards the fleet.

Whalers and whale defenders are all on a collision course in one of the most remote and hostile areas of the planet - the southern Indian Ocean between South Africa and Australia.

Sea Shepherd is accusing the Japanese of kidnapping, extortion and the illegal poaching of whales. Greenpeacers are accusing the Japanese whalers of pseudo-science. The whalers are accusing Sea Shepherd of piracy and Greenpeace of opportunism and eco-imperialism. Greenpeace is calling Sea Shepherd dangerous militants. Sea Shepherd is dismissing Greenpeace as wimps. It's a strange combination of ever-churning conflicting alliances.

And these ships carry the most incredible mosaic of people imaginable. A few hundred people of diverse nationalities and cultures on ships flying the flags of Japan, the Netherlands and the Five Nations of the Iroquois.

Passionate volunteer whale defenders, embedded media, ruthless whale killers, compassionate vegans and macho meat eaters, members of a Japanese seaman's unions controlled by the Yakusa, Japanese nationalists, Southern American rednecks, aging hippies,  outback larrikins, anarchist punk rockers, technocrats, surfers, deep sea divers,  a brewing clash of conflicting cultures, all fuel to feed the fires of a major conflict.

There is a foreboding potential for trouble here and past confrontations in these remote chilly waters have resulted in collisions, deliberate rammings, harpoon blockading, high pressure water hoses, foul smelling stink bombs, helicopters and racing inflatable boats. This year we can add abductions, ransom demands and threats of piracy charges.

Years of frustration, heated tempers and seething anger are feeding a frenzy of furious skirmishes. In short, all hell is breaking loose down in these stormy southern waters as curious penguins look on patiently and the whales spout and blow. And this leads to the next question.

Where is Australia?

Promises to intervene against Japanese whaling have dissipated like a breath of frost. Environment Minister Peter Garrett is pretending he's never heard of a whale as he wages war on plastic bags and his lips close tighter than a constipated oyster whenever anyone asks what he is going to do for the whales.

In the meantime, the former Environment Minister under the Howard government, Ian Campbell joins the Advisory Board of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society with the advice that twenty years of diplomacy has failed to stop the steady escalation of the Japanese whale quota.

And then there is the ghost ship - the elusive Australian Customs vessel Oceanic Viking. No one knows where they are, what they are doing, or what they plan to do. They had their guns stripped to not offend the Japanese and they are refusing to cooperate with Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace both. But they also are heading into this chaotic fray.

Both Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd believe the Australian Navy should be dispatched to ensure the safety and security of all parties involved. That is not likely to happen.

The Australian Courts have ruled that the Japanese fleet cannot kill whales within 200 miles of the Australian Antarctic coast. Sounds great, except that Australia does not intend to back up this court order with any credible enforcement. The Japanese will continue to kill whales wherever and whenever they wish to, knowing that the Australian government does not have the guts to prevent them from continuing the slaughter.

There is no doubt that the 2007/2008 whaling season has been the most volatile and tense year on record as two non-governmental organizations struggle to contain and obstruct an entire whaling fleet as governments posture and talk but do very little.

Some media commentators say that it is a miracle no one has been killed or injured yet the reality is that death is continuous down here as Japanese cetacean serial killers drive explosive harpoons into the backs of defenseless whales pouring thousands of gallons of hot blood into the seas.

This is a killing ground and these deaths are real, agonizing, cruel and wasteful, and illegal. The Japanese whalers are targeting endangered whales in a whale sanctuary in violation of a global moratorium on commercial whaling. They are no different than elephant poachers in Africa or tiger poachers in India. They are criminals and they must be stopped.

As the cold war to save the whales continues to rage in the Southern Oceans, it gets more intense every year. It is only a matter of time until tragedy strikes and a person is killed or seriously injured. The Southern Ocean is a dangerous place, cold and unforgiving. The Japanese whalers are stubborn and proudly ruthless. The whale defenders are equally stubborn, matching the whaler's cruelty with determined compassionate activism.

This is a war, a war between conflicting values, a battle to uphold the rule of international conservation law and to protect endangered species from arrogant greed and ecological ignorance. It is a war between those who champion life over those who profit from death.

It is a war to save the whales of the Southern Ocean and that objective is worth the effort and the risks that conservationists are taking.