While Sea Shepherd continues to defend threatened and endangered whales in Antarctic waters, the nations that voted to establish the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary remain notably absent, unwilling to enforce the international law that protects it.
Captain Peter Hammarstedt responds to Greg Hunt’s most recent letter, condemning the Australian government for its failure to apply any sort of diplomatic pressure to the government of Japan in light of three unprovoked attacks on the Sea Shepherd fleet, performing the duties of these impotent governments. Thirty-eight members of Sea Shepherd’s crew are Australian citizens. Captain Peter Hammarstedt argues that the inaction of the Australian government to create repercussions for these attacks has enabled the government of Japan to continue risking everyone’s safety as they forcefully persist with internationally condemned poaching operations.
Response to Greg Hunt
Dear Captain Hammarstedt,
I refer to your open letter of 24 February 2014 regarding recent reported clashes in the Southern Ocean. I note that your letter suggests that the safety of Australian citizens on board Sea Shepherd protest vessels may be at risk when clashes occur.
Captain Hammarstedt: Minister, my letter does not suggest that the safety of Australian citizens on board Sea Shepherd vessels may be at risk; my letter states clearly that they are at risk. On the 2nd of March 2014, my vessel sustained a third unprovoked attack while my ship was more than 36 nautical miles away from the Japanese factory whaling ship. You were informed in advance that an attack on my vessel was imminent.
One of my small boats, crewed by an Australian citizen, was heavily damaged by a steel cable that the whale poachers attempted to drag into my rudder and propeller. It is just a question of time before somebody gets hurt down here and when they do it will be because of the failure of the Australian Government to hold the Government of Japan accountable for their illegal whaling program and their attacks on the only people willing to uphold international law.
The Australian Government (the Government) is of course concerned should the safety of its citizens be put at risk. I would reiterate however, that it is the responsibility of the masters of all vessels, including those of Sea Shepherd, to ensure that the safety of human life at sea is not endangered. While we respect the right of peaceful protest, Australia will not condone, and has repeatedly condemned any dangerous, reckless or unlawful behavior. Our expectation is that parties uphold their obligations under international maritime law.
Captain Hammarstedt: Minister, the problem is that your expectations are not being met, as one of the parties in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, the Japanese whale poaching industry, is not upholding their obligations under international maritime law. I have personally forwarded you every incident report that I have submitted to my flag state and those incident reports state clearly the numerous violations that the Japanese whale poachers are guilty of. I stand by the question asked in my letter – what is the Australian Government doing to make clear to the Government of Japan that unprovoked attacks will not be tolerated against its citizens?
Under international law, the primary responsibility for investigating any incidents at sea rests with the flag states involved. None of the vessels reported to be involved are Australian flagged.
Captain Hammarstedt: As a member of Cabinet in the Government of Australia who promised an Australian Customs Vessel to protect the safety of life at sea and failed to deliver on that promise, you do have a responsibility. There are thirty-eight Australian citizens on board three Sea Shepherd vessels in the Southern Ocean, showing a commitment to both whale protection and the law. Those thirty-eight citizens are put in jeopardy every time that the whale poachers launch an unprovoked and ruthless assault on their vessels. The protection of Australian citizens is the responsibility of the Australian Government. Australia and New Zealand are responsible for search and rescue in Japan’s self-appointed whaling ground as that area of butchery is the same as Australia and New Zealand’s territorial and economic claims in Antarctica.
For operational security purposes, the Australian Government does not disclose details about activities associated with this season’s Southern Ocean monitoring programme. What I will say is that the Government remains committed to monitoring the Southern Ocean. The Southern Ocean is a remote and often unpredictable environment and for these reasons monitoring flights can only be undertaken following careful planning based on expert advice.
Captain Hammarstedt: The monitoring flights are quite clearly not relying on the expert advice of Air Force Chief Geoff Brown who told a Senate estimates hearing that “the [Airbus] A319 is not suitable for that [monitoring Antarctic whaling] task.
Minister, you are on record as stating that the monitoring mission is in place to “ensure that there is a presence to make sure that there is no conflict between the parties. It will also ensure that there is awareness from all parties that the world is watching”. My question to you, Minister, is – where was the aircraft during the three times that my vessel, with its nine Australian citizens, was attacked?
The Senate estimates hearing learned that the Australian Government has only budgeted $300,000 for the entire monitoring operation. The first flight cost $93,248. I’m puzzled by the mathematics of the Australian Government’s commitment to monitoring the Southern Ocean. Three measly flights for a three-month whaling season? Whoever advised you that this would be a more effective alternative to an Australian Customs Vessel either lied to you or didn’t tell you the truth.
Well, I’m here to tell you the terrible truth – your letter has reminded my Australian crew that they have been left to fend for themselves by the Abbott Government. It has driven home the message that their government is shunning its international and domestic obligations, paying lip-service to the wishes of its citizens who demand these whales are protected as regulation prescribes, while at the same time abandoning the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to the Japanese poachers. Due to the absence of any kind of law enforcement, your citizens will continue to risk their lives in an effort to uphold Australian and international conservation law in the Southern Ocean because you have failed to do so.
All that matters at the end of the whaling season is how many whales were killed, and how many whales were saved. And those whales who are spared the harpoon this year will have been saved entirely by the actions of the brave Sea Shepherd crews, while your government sits on their hands.