Sunday, March 27, 2011

Whalers Put To Good Use

A very quiet homecoming last week for the Japanese whaling fleet...
The Nisshin Maru factory ship crept into Tokyo Bay amid speculation that this year's Antarctic whaling season may be its last. Considering the recent tragedy in Japan, the disgrace of the whaling fleet was not much of a story. NM and the rest of the whalers were still at sea when the earthquake and tsunami struck, and they would have slipped into port almost unnoticed by the general public.
However Japanese authorities immediately commandeered the ship to deliver aid supplies to northern Japan. As NM is such a large vessel (at 8,000 tons), it is ideally suited for this. NM will be taking charcoal, rice, kerosene, instant noodles and other supplies to the northern coastal communities hit hardest by the tsunami - a far more positive role than slaughtering whales!
Come to think of it, NM could fairly easily be permanently converted into a humanitarian aid vessel, with its rear slipway (up which whale carcasses are dragged) modified for roll-on/roll-off use.
Let's face it, the new rules from the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) starting this July will make it illegal for it to operate below 60° south (the area where all the Japanese pelagic whaling is done), so it cannot sail to Antarctic waters again. Unless it's used for whaling in other oceans, or broken up, a conversion to an aid ship seems an admirable idea!
This recent disaster may well be the final nail in the coffin lid for whaling: the economic hit taken by Japan will make further massive whaling subsidies very unpopular.
Of course, there's the possibility Japan may again see whale meat as a cheap food for a nation in crisis (just as the whaling fleet was organised in 1946 by US General Douglas MacArthur to provide cheap protein for post-war civilian populations). But such a move would be blatantly commercial and therefore illegal. Japan may appeal to world sympathy for justification, but it would be unlikely they'd get it.
However I have no issue with the distribution of Japan's huge whalemeat stockpiles: there's no likelihood the record 6,000+ tons will ever be consumed under normal circumstances. However Japan faces major problems currently, and those embarrassing stockpiles could be put to good use.
After all, it's already been paid for by the Japanese people (through excessive government subsidies used to prop up their dieing whaling industry) so why not use it to sustain those very same people? 
PS: 18 Aug.2011 - And it's not just whalers that can be 'recycled'. The retiring Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior II will serve out its days as a hospital ship in Bangladesh.

4 comments:

David said...

"Let's face it, the new rules from the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) starting this July will make it illegal for it to operate below 60° south (the area where all the Japanese pelagic whaling is done)..."

The Japanese, with the Nisshin Maru, conduct considerable pelargic whaling in the Northern Pacific every year.

And I assume you are refering to the IMO heavy oil restrictions? The Nisshin Maru's engines can burn the permissible lighter oils just as well as they can the heavy oil. So that change to IMO regulations won't prevent them from returning to the Southern Ocean.

Writer Of The Purple Sage... said...

David:

Your points are correct.

(1) IMO mandates that machinery using heavy oil be replaced by devices running on light oil. That's not massively expensive but would require a refit of the Nisshin Maru, at a time when the whaling operation is only surviving on huge governmental subsidies, and its mother country has other more serious concerns. In addition the factory ship is old and dottering. She's had two fires in recent years that, had they got out of control, could have unleashed devastating pollution in the Antarctic ecosystem. Is building another factory ship an option? I don’t think so. So that only leaves the northern whaling grounds...

(2) The Institute of Cetacean Research, the cover behind which commercial whaling cowers, says it conducts research in the western North Pacific, from May-September annually, "under Special Permit as provided for under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW)" ie: under the loophole it found to disguise whaling as study, minke, sei, Bryde's whales and sperm whales are the targets... er, sorry... research subjects. This hunt takes place in Japanese territorial waters and would not be accessible to protest action.

My apologies if I've inferred the Japanese ONLY butcher whales in Antarctica - no, they do it anywhere they can!

Thanks for your input.

David said...

Actually the Northern Pacific whaling (JARPN II) extends over 1000 miles east of the coast of Japan, well outside Japan's territorial waters, making it accessible to protest actions.

And the switch to marine diesel from HFO does not require a refit. The Nisshin Maru's engines will run on either with no modification needed as will most large vessels. They use HFO because it is cheaper per mile but almost all ports don't allow its use while in port. So most large vessels already use marine diesel in port then once they clear the 12 nm limits the switch to their HFO tanks.

Writer Of The Purple Sage... said...

Thanks for your corrections, David.
The info I drew on seemS to be more generalistic than your knowledge.
Deeper reading showS Nisshin Maru falls short of the new IMO regs in three areas:
(1) heavy oil
(2) hull strength
(3) discharge of waste.

(1) I accept yr point that cost of oil conversion may not be an issue for NM.
(2) But NM only has single-hull strength, not the required double-hull ice strength.
(3) NM dumps approx.40% of whale carcasses each year, according to Institute of Cetacean Research, which owns it: about 2,000 tons of bones, blood and body parts annually.
So any one of those three areas will curtail NM's bloody adventures down south.

As for northern whaling, Japan kills in an area 40-45N/140-160E (excluding Soviet EEZ). So that's off Hokkaido to about halfway up the island chain extending to the Kamchatskiy Peninsula. Specifics are VERY illusive (understandably!) but locating this area on a map, I'd estimate about half is in international waters...
Whether protest action will follow them there (or merely concentrate on clearing them permanently from a SANCTUARY) remains to be seen.