It's one of the most tense anti-whaling Antarctic clashes of the past decade.
Japanese whalers have made several attempts to break Sea Shepherd's blockade of their Korean tanker Sun Laurel. The 8,000 tonne factory ship Nisshin Maru has collided several times with Bob Barker while trying to force its massive bulk between BB and the tanker.
Paul Watson: "NM first rammed BB and pushed it into the side of SL. Concussion grenades were deployed against BB, and near the tanker. Then NM rammed Sam Simon in the port quarter...very intense."
Earlier, the 12,500- tonne Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force icebreaker Shirase arrived on the scene in Mackenzie Bay, near the coast of the Aust.Antarctic Territory far to the SW of Perth. Asked if the military vessel would be used in the conflict, thus escalating the situation, Japan's consul-general in Melbourne, Hidenobu Sobashima, said: "We are not in a position to comment on the movement of the ships." Riiiiight! The icebreaker was scheduled to be in the region conducting Antarctic marine scientific work. Coincidence...?
Of course, as expected, the nasty Nippons claim that SS rammed into NM, and quickly released video footage in support. But as always it comes down to the angle of the camera, and SS's footage from its helicopter puts the aquatic action into dangerous perspective...
The video clearly shows the 8,000 tonne leviathan pushing BB into the fuel tanker SL, heeling over the SS ship and smashing down on its bridge. Director of Sea Shepherd Australia, Jeff Hansen: "For the whalers to suggest it was SS that rammed their massive factory ship, is like a convicted hit-and-run criminal saying it was the pedestrian who ran into his car...!"
Currently, SI and BB are tailing NM. Two of the Japanese harpoon vessels also appear from time to time but have not been positively IDed. NM has made numerous course changes. Simon is with the fuel tanker, along with Shonan Maru 2 and a third harpoon ship. Last reports placed them about 160nm from SL: SS expects the Japanese will try to refuel again soon.
+ Oz PM Julia Gillard's refusal to intervene in the whaling conflict has been rejected by SS as a failure to protect Australian life and property. She says the govt is not empowered to put an Aussie vessel between Japanese and SS ships, while Paul Watson says the govt has the authority to police the area against pollution and illegal whaling, and to protect its citizens on the group's Australian-flagged ships: "Australia sends ships to the Sthrn Ocean to rescue foreign yachtsmen yet they don't feel responsible for protecting Australian citizens."
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority will be conducting inquiries following the NM collision...but we know from past experience that, whatever the outcome, it will have no impact on the whalers.
The use of the huge factory ship as a battering ram reminds me of a cartoon where a bull elephant is cowering in fear of a tiny mouse...