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Crippled ship could be harmful

Published: 11:59AM Friday February 23, 2007 Source: AAP

Captain Paul Watson knows he cannot claim credit for the event that may have prematurely ended Japan's seasonal whaling operations in Antarctica.

The environmental activist and Sea Shepherd boat skipper says he is happy that several hundred of the mammals have, for the time being, been spared because of a huge fire last week which crippled the Japanese whaling fleet's factory ship, the Nisshin Maru.

Of greater concern to Watson, however, is the potential for "a disaster beyond comprehension" to befall the pristine Antarctic environment.

The blaze left the Nisshin Maru, which was loaded with 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil, drifting without power in the Ross Sea, just 175km from Cape Adare and the world's largest Adelie penguin rookery.

"It's an environmental disaster waiting to happen," says Watson, founder and president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS).

"Every year, Japan sends an industrial floating factory down there, with hundreds of thousands of gallons of oils, chemicals, chlorine, ammonia.

"If it had have gone down, it would have probably killed 100,000 penguins in the largest Adelie penguin colony on the coast which was very close by.

"People are becoming more and more aware of just how fragile the environment is down there and how much of a threat these guys are. The Japanese are the real eco-terrorists, not us like they claim."

Since December, Captain Watson has led efforts to scupper Japan's ongoing whaling operations.

For several weeks, the Sea Shepherd's two ships, the Robert Hunter and the Farley Mowat, scoured the Southern Ocean before coming across the Japanese fleet in the Ross Sea in late January.

After chasing and harassing the whalers, the Robert Hunter collided with whale-spotting ship Kaiko Maru before a lack of fuel forced it and the Farley Mowat to head back to Australia.

It was then that the 8,000-tonne Nisshin Maru caught ablaze, killing one crew member and leaving the ship powerless amid slowly-encroaching pack ice.

The environmentalists had hoped that the emergency had brought a premature end to the whaling season.

"Japanese Whalers Shut Down By Their Own Folly," sang Sea Shepherd's website.

A spokesman for Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR), Glen Inwood, said the Nisshin Maru's crew had made sufficient repairs to restore power to the vessel and that safety checks were being carried out.

"The engines have been turned over and obviously the skipper's decided to shut them off again," Inwood said.

"I'm not sure why that's the case but I'm hoping it's just to continue the checks on the vessel."

Inwood said no decision had been made on whether the whaling season would continue or if the fleet would return to Japan.

But earlier this week, he said the IRC's work would continue if the Nisshin Maru was repaired in time.

"The normal whale research program ends around late March so we still have three to four weeks left and the fleet is going to continue with the work there," he said.

"Article eight of the whaling convention provides for individual IWC (International Whaling Commission) members to conduct research whaling in any way they see fit.

"The global moratorium on whaling is ineffectual and anything in Antarctic waters, anything below 60 degrees south does not belong to Australia but belongs to anyone."

The sustainability of whaling stocks also is not in question, argues Inwood, further denying that the term "research" is simply a cover for commercial whaling.

"Another requirement of the whaling convention is that all by-products of whales - the meat, bones, everything - must be processed to the greatest extent possible.

"Japan has to sell the meat in the market and, yes, the ultimate aim is to resume commercial whaling.

"There is no doubt that whale populations are thriving. Even the IWC's research shows healthy whale stocks. This is a very sustainable industry."

Not surprisingly, Paul Watson doesn't see it the same way, arguing instead that opposing whaling has everything to do with survival of life on earth.

Not that he agrees with the word 'sustainability' either.

"I don't believe in the word 'sustainable', it just means business as usual under another name.

"With a population of six-and-a-half billion people on this planet and growing, there is no such thing as a sustainable fishery. There are simply too many people and not enough fish."

He points out that environmentalists warned about collapsing fisheries, adding that Japan's whaling industry is simply about commercial interests and about an ever-diminishing food chain.

"What's happening is we're watching these fisheries collapse.

"We predicted the collapse of the (Canadian) cod fishery and right up to the very day, in 1992, that the cod fishery collapsed, we were told we didn't know what we were talking about.

"What they said is 'We have the best scientists in the world, we've done this computer model, we've done that computer model, there is no way that the cod fishery is going to collapse'.

"Now it's 2% of its original population and it wis been diminished to the point where the ecological niche has been taken over by other species.

"And this is happening over and over. Orange roughy you don't see in markets any more, that fishery collapsed. Now they're going after Patagonian toothfish.

They are literally strip-mining the oceans, and it goes beyond that.

"It's not about eating fish any more, it's about the fact that if we destroy the oceans, we destroy the ability of the oceans to support life on this planet, including our own life."