Whale Poachers’ Refuelling Vessel Sun Laurel Enters Australian Waters, Putting Pristine Antarctic Environment at Risk
At 2:45 am AEDT this morning, the fuel tanker for the Japanese whaling fleet, the Sun Laurel, entered the Australian Antarctic Exclusive Economic Zone at a position of 63° 07’ South, 84° 52’ East.
Captain Luis Pinho of Australia, onboard the SSS Sam Simon, has been in constant communication with AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Association) to keep them abreast of the situation. He stated, “We have been pursuing the Sun Laurel all night and they have been operating at very unsafe speeds, in extremely dangerous conditions with icebergs and poor visibility. A number of times my crew and I could smell diesel from the wake of the vessel ahead. We collected samples that we have onboard which exhale an odor of oil. We are very concerned, for an oil spill in these pristine Antarctic waters would have a catastrophic effect on the Antarctic wilderness.”
At 11:00 am AEDT, the Sun Laurel and the Sam Simon were met by two members of the whale poaching fleet, the Yushin Maru – the harpoon ship of the Japanese whaling fleet - and Shonan Maru No. 2 – the Government of Japan armed security vessel.
The Sam Simon radioed the following message to the whale poaching vessels in Japanese and English: "Yushin Maru, you are engaged in illegal whaling operations inside a whale sanctuary, and therefore we intend to prevent your refueling operation until your fleet leaves this sanctuary.”
The Sam Simon positioned itself between the Sun Laurel and the harpoon ship Yushin Maru, while exercising caution and maintaining the right of way according to COLREGS, the International Regulations for Avoiding Collisions at Sea. After one successful block, the Yushin Maru made a wide turn towards the Sam Simon, creating a collision course that would have hit the Sam Simon at a ninety-degree angle.
Sam Simon Captain Luis Manho has made the following statement: “I judged that this collision would be of high risk to the hull integrity of the Sam Simon, with the reinforced bow of the Yushin Maru imminently coming into contact with our portside stern at high speed. While this was happening, the armed security ship, the Shonan Maru No. 2, was also very close to us and acting aggressively, coming within .08 nautical miles of our bow.
“At this point I realised that these poaching ships were determined to refuel regardless of any consequence, be it large scale oil pollution, property damage, or risk of life at sea. In order to protect my crew as well as the marine life of the Southern Ocean, I decided it was in the best interest of all concerned to back away and document this dangerous fuelling operation.”
At 11:45 am AEDT at a position of 64° 30’ degrees South, 84° 20’ East, the Yushin Maru tied up along side the Sun Laurel and was refuelled. At 1:55 pm AEDT the Yushin Maru cast off the Sun Laurel, and was immediately replaced by the Shonan Maru No. 2, currently being refuelled.
Sea Shepherd Australia believes the Sun Laurel is carrying Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) onboard, which places it in breach of MARPOL (the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships) ANNEX 1 Regulation 43, including a special Chapter 9, which prohibits the use and carriage of HFOs in the area.
All four ships are currently well inside the Australian Antarctic Territory, in Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
On January 31st Shonan Maru Number No. 2 entered Australian waters off Macquarie Island. At the time, Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, responded by saying, "Australia has made it clear to Japan on a number of occasions that vessels associated with its whaling program are not welcome in Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone or Territorial Sea.”
Director of Sea Shepherd Australia, Jeff Hansen, has responded to the refueling activities of the Japanese whaling fleet, saying, "Well, it appears that Japan is not listening to Canberra in the slightest, as an armed Japanese Government Coast Guard vessel, along with a whale killing harpoon ship, has just been refuelled in Australian Waters off Antarctica. If Australia is going to lay claim to these waters, the least they can do is defend them. If these poachers were from Uruguay and hunting Patagonian Toothfish, instead of these magnificent whales, I am sure the response from Canberra would be entirely different."
Sea Shepherd Co-Campaign Leader, Bob Brown, says, “As Tokyo transfers oil from ship to ship, Canberra is transferring authority over the Antarctic whale sanctuary to Tokyo.”
Former Federal Minister for the Environment, Ian Campbell, stated, "The fuel tanker Sun Laurel is carrying HFOs in the region in contravention of international law. All conservation minded nations should demand that this cavalier attitude towards planet Earths’ last true wilderness end forthwith. The Australian Government should lead a demarche on the joint issues of the Japanese commercial whaling in contravention of the moratorium, and illegally bringing a refuelling vessel carrying HFOs into the region in contravention of MARPOL (the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships) regulations."