Fuel tanker Sun Laurel and Yushin Maru 3 are 120 miles further N accompanied by SS's vessel Sam Simon. The whaling season climatically is drawing to an end, with plankton and krill that the whales feed upon reducing quickly, the storms of autumn setting in and the whales preparing to migrate north for the winter.
Paul Watson, an observer on Steve Irwin, is 80% certain that the actual whale hunt is over for this year. When calculating the logistics of refuelling the whalers, their return to the sanctuary would take the best part of a week - a week the whalers really don't have: "They're on a course direct for Indonesia. Hopefully that means they're going home. We don't know for sure but they're definitely leaving the whaling ground."
Watson said SS would not intervene against any legal transfer of fuel between NM and SL above the line of sixty degrees South. But SS has intervened on at least three occasions to stop the transfer of fuel below 60 degrees. But the major conflicts occurred when SS blockaded and obstructed NM from coming alongside the Panamanian-registered Korean-owned SL to refuel.
SS alledges that heavy fuel oil (HFO) is used by the Japanese fleet, and that refuelling with this fuel in Antarctic waters is illegal. The whaling fleet regularly refuels illegally in the treaty zone below 60 degrees south.
So how has SS's campaign goal of 'zero tolerance' measured up this year? Well, the number of whales slaughtered has been very low. SS can only confirm the death of two minkes. Some whales could have been taken on the run westward - NM and YM2 had two days to whale unobstructed until SS caught up with them. SS can confirm that YM and YM3 did not kill any whales this season, as those two vessels were under observation at all times.
Watson's estimate of the number of whales killed is no more than 75: "It could be much lower but certainly not higher. Last year I predicted the whalers would take 30% of their kill quota. The actual kill was 26%. Although Operation Zero Tolerance did not realize zero kills, this campaign will see the lowest take by the Japanese whaling fleet in the entire history of their Antarctic whale hunts."
But the campaign has come at a cost, with Sea Shepherd USA and Paul Watson being declared as true pirates by a decision of the US 9th District Court. This could have implications for its US assets and fundraising abilities. But the campaign this year was run fully by Sea Shepherd Australia, with the fleet of vessels sailing with Australian and Netherlands registration.
Director Bob Brown: "We've had hundreds of thousands of dollars' damage done to our ships by the ramming by the Japanese fleet. We will be reliant on public help to refurbish that, but it won't be long now before our ships are headed back to Melbourne and I know they're going to get a big welcome."