Japanese Negligence Threatens Antarctic Ecosystem

The Japanese whale processing ship Nisshin Maru caught fire on Thursday (Auckland, NZ, time) in icy waters near Antarctica.

The 8,000 ton factory ship is no stranger to negligent safety procedures. The fire that forced the evacuation of the crew of the Nisshin Maru is the second major conflagration suffered by this ship.

The last time disaster struck was November 23, 1998, when the Nisshin Maru was on the way down to Antarctica. The factory ship caught fire and sustained great damage. It was towed to New Caledonia for repairs.

The Japanese government is being irresponsible in sending a ship down to remote and hostile environments without eliminating the potential for fire. Obviously, their sprinkler systems and fire response systems are inadequate, and they have not improved their equipment or response since the last accident.

In addition to the threat posed to their own crew, the potential for environmental damage and lethal impact on wildlife is significant. The Nisshin Maru carries very large quantity of fuel. A fuel spill into the pristine waters of the region could kill whales, seals, penguins, and other marine birds and other marine species.

The Associated Press is reporting:

New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter, whose country is leading efforts to help the stricken ship, said it was carrying 132,000 gallons of heavy oil and 211,000 gallons of furnace oil and was starting to list from water pumped aboard to fight the fire.

"It is a serious situation ... a ship badly damaged and full of toxic oil," Carter told National Radio.

Sea Shepherd believes that industrial activity should not be permitted in the Antarctic Treaty Region. The Nisshin Maru is a floating slaughterhouse factory and carries large volumes of ammonia used for freezing whale meat. The boilers and the machinery used to process whales present many opportunities for fire and explosions.

To the whales, the Nisshin Maru is the lethal death star. The destruction of this killing machine is good news for conservationists on one hand, but has the potential for creating another disaster that will kill marine wildlife.

Sea Shepherd expects that this disaster will cause the Japanese whaling fleet to abort their killing spree and force them to return to Japan without achieving their quota. In fact, Radio New Zealand is reporting:

The owners of the Nisshin Maru say plans are being considered in case the ship can no longer operate.

Spokesperson Glenn Inwood says the company is speaking with the New Zealand-owned Pacific Chieftain, the closest available towing ship.

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