Whaling war heats up to boiling point

The news that a vessel of the Japanese whaling fleet has deliberately rammed and sunk a small vessel of the Sea Shepherd fleet in the open ocean will lift this issue to a whole new level. It could well lead to serious harm to diplomatic and other relations between Australia and Japan.

In looking at how things have come to this point, it is worthwhile outlining some background to public and government attitudes to the issue. The tension and antagonism around the annual hunt by Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean has been steadily increasing over a number of years.

The previous conservative government in Australia adopted a strong anti-whaling stance – in line with the views of the vast majority of the Australian public – but was either unable or unwilling to do more to try to bring about a reduction in the number of whales being killed each year. Given at least some of the slaughtering takes place in waters which the Australian government had (self)declared as a Whale Sanctuary, the failure to prevent or even hinder the amount of whaling did little to assuage public concerns.

The Labor Party, then in opposition, echoed these frustrations and many people assumed that stronger action to halt or reduce or at least forcefully challenge the annual whale hunt would occur when the Labor Party came into government. The usual diplomatic exchanges between Japanese and Australian governments, expressing their differing and incompatible views, continued to occur. But both the previous and the present Australian governments avoided initiating any court or other legal challenges to the Japanese whalers, despite occasional hints that something along these lines might be done.

It had been left to some Australian based environment and animal protection groups to attempt to pursue court action, which had limited success – while Australia’s Federal court ruled it was illegal under Australia law for whales to be hunted in the Australian Whale Sanctuary, Japan (and many other countries) do not formally recognise Australia’s claim to Antartic territorial waters.  It is really only governments which can initiate legal action in the international arena, so non-government organisations cannot usually pursue actions under international law (nor is it guaranteed that the Australian government would actually win if they pursued such a path.)

In short, very little if anything has changed in the two years since the change of government despite expectations to the contrary, and in this circumstance, public frustrations with perceived government inaction and/or impotence has continued to grow. This has created a groundswell of support for the Sea Shepherd organisation, which is one of the most radical direct-action, legitimate environmental or animal protection groups in the world. Whilst they clearly and continually oppose and avoid any form of direct violence or direct attempts to injure humans, the Sea Shepherd team do virtually everything else possible to directly confront, hinder and prevent whaling from taking place.

In other circumstances, such a confrontational approach would normally not attract much public support in Australia, which doesn’t have particularly strong or rigorous animal welfare laws. Whilst few people would publicly support cruelty to animals, animal protection activists are still usually treated as a fringe element by mainstream media and political parties, even when the cruelty they expose is not condoned.

However, a combination of very strong public support for whale and sea mammals in general, the well highlighted and undeniable cruelty involved in killing whales, and successive national governments which have publicly supported anti-whaling views whilst being seen to do too little to stop it, has all led to the uncompromising ‘Can Do’ attitude of the Sea Shepherd attracting a lot of public support. Sea Shepherd even had Ian Campbell, a former Environment Ministerof the previous conservative government, join their board of advisors after he left politics prior to the last election.

The preparations on the side of both the Sea Shepherd and the Japanese whaling fleet have been greater than ever for this year’s hunt, with a record level of resources and capabilities being deployed. The whalers deployed an extra security ship to track and hinder the Steve Irwin, Sea Shepherd’s main vessel.

News also recently surfaced that they hired Australian planes, deployed of airports in the southern parts of Australia, to assist with tracking the Sea Shepherd ships. For their part, Sea Shepherd had deployed a high tech, very high speed catamaran, the Ady Gil, and just today unveiled news that they had an additional, former Norwegian whaling vessel (named the Bob Barker) which had travelled from a different direction to the Steve Irwin and just intercepted the Japanese whaling fleet.

The news that Australians businesses have been involved in directly assisting the Japanese whaling efforts has already led the Australian Greens party to announce that they will introduce legislation making it illegal for any Australian assistance to be provided to whaling, including air or sea surveillance or communication facilities. The fact that in previous years the Japanese whaling fleet had been able to use Australian ports had caused controversy, but no formal legal action.

Perhaps the same response would have occurred again this time, but in the light of this sinking ramming of a small vessel of the Sea Shepherd fleet – which has been directly supported by many Australians – by a Japanese vessel, it will now be far less likely that actions can or will be avoided which will escalate the situation further.

UPDATE: In an extraordinary example of how deeply polarised the issue now is, a video of the Ady Gil getting rammed is being posted on YouTube – filmed from the Japanese vesselwith titles stating it shows the Ady Gil attacking or ramming the Japanese vessel! As the following comments show, people can obviously view the same footage and see two completely different versions of events (myself included I suppose).  Certainly almost everyone sending a link to the footage around Twitter using the Sea Shepherd hashtag seem to view it as obvious proof of an attack on the Ady Gil, regardless of the title given to the footage (which is up on a number of different YouTube sites

Following are links to previous posts I have done on the topic of whaling – this one from 2008 and this one from 2005.

(An almost identical post to this has been cross-posted at Asian Correspondent)

FURTHER VIDEO EVIDENCE:  This video footage, taken from the perspective Sea Shepherd’s Bob Barker, is much clearer and more conclusive – yet even with this, some comments have been posted stating the Ady Gil “intentionally rammed the Japanese vessel!

ELSEWHERE: For people interested in further thoughts on this issue, there are some good comments threads on this topic over at Ambit Gambit and Larvatus Prodeo.

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  1. The only thing I would add is that diplomatic exchanges between Japanese and Australian governments have gone as far as they can, unless we are prepared to trade something away. Australian Governments from both sides of politics have assessed that the Australian public would not be supportive of damaging trade with Japan. But I wonder if this assessment is right.

    Regardless, Austrlaia is a bit player in the game, and the real power – as is so often the case – rests with Japan’s major trading partner the USA. In the background of the past few years of annual whaling meetings is a deal between these two power brokers, which may well trade safety of whales in the southern ocean (possibly southern hemisphere) for rights to legitimately whale closer to Japan shores.

    Unfortunately, the annual stoush in the Southern Ocean just pushes that deal of ‘legitimized whaling’ closer. I wonder if the Australian public would be happy with that outcome – I doubt it would

    However, if this media proves accurate, Japan may just have crossed a line which will be sufficiently embarrassing to shift its position. We can only hope.

  2. Hi Chris

    Different people have views as to what is right and wrong on many topics. As my previous posts on whaling have noted (I just added them to the bottom of this piece, but I wrote this one back in 2005), while I’m anti-whaling, I find an inconsistency with a view which stridently opposes whaling while having no problem with other mammals being killed for food.

    Many people would argue that even for non-endangered whales, the killing of them involves signifcantly cruelty or suffering – which I think is pretty hard to deny. Of course, it is also very hard not to argue the same in regards to the treatment (often through their whole lives, not just the slaughter) for the majority of mammals used for food.

    I expect many people argue whales (and perhaps dolphins and other sea mammals) are special in some way. I will leave them to argue that case if they wish. Having just had a quick look through the comments thread on my 2008 post, I suspect the same sorts of arguments reflected there will be re-run.

  3. Well … to be completely predictable then, although I have my own philosophical views about this subject, what is becoming apparent is that these are mammals that are just not appropriate as food.

    The hunting of them is usually cruel, prolonged and in no way meets basic welfare standards that we apply to other mammals and indeed other forms of terrestrial hunting. Regulation of this hunting is difficult and the debate surrounding the imposition of even basic control of actives in now intractable. Also, defining what is sustainable is difficult, because these animals are now buffeted by so many other threats, that removal of even small numbers of their populations can have significant and even terminal impacts on the populations within which they operate.

    Also, science (not welfare groups) is now informing us that these are high developed species. Studies into dolphin behavior have highlighted how similar their communications are to those of humans These have been backed up by anatomical research showing that dolphin brains have many key features associated with high intelligence, the researchers argue that it is morally unacceptable to keep them in captivity or to kill them for food (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/article6973994.ece for the most recent release of this position)

    So, remembering that these are wild animals, not cattle, really the comparison should be to regard them as similar to the great apes more than other sources of food that we farm.

    Perhaps our society is evolving to a point where we now find killing them inappropriate. For many people it has reached that point.

    Just because something exists does not mean we have to ‘use it’. We have evolved our considerations about boundaries of behavior constantly in the evolution of human society.

    Perhaps we are now deciding that some things are just ‘beyond use’, in much the same way as we evolved our regard for women, children and humans from different parts of the world.

  4. Four Points about this incident…

    (1) The whales in question are not an endangered species. If the Japanese choose to eat whale meat so be it. Aboriginals eat Kangaroo. The Inuit eat and hunt seals. Peruvians eat Guinea Pig etc. etc.

    (2) The Sea Shepherd organisation is headed by a seriously deluded “I was touched by a special animal spirit in the past” individual who happens to be good at PR. He also knows how to tap into the guilt/anti-humanistic/dark green complex of many people in the west. (There are complex reasons for this state of mind.)

    (3) The Australian Government will make some noises to appease the “Save the Gay Whales” crowd. However the navy will not be sent down to the Southern Ocean and the Japanese will be told quietly behind closed diplomatic doors that the Government has no real objection to what they are doing.

    (4) The nutcase, dark greenies will scream blue murder and will really get riled up. The will burn Japanese Flags outside Fish and Chip Shops as long as the media is present. Editors will love this story as it provides a simple narrative for consumers to follow. Eventually the dark-green anger will subside and they will look for another cause-du-jour over which to vent the repressed feelings they have inside.

  5. I agree with Chris.

    I believe that a compromise is in order and that the Japanese should be allowed to take a few whales if they want them, but if they catch them in our waters, they should have to PAY for the privilege.

    Since human beings are omnivores, I think it is quite fine for us to eat food animals, but I would like them to be raised and slaughtered in as humane a fashion as possible.

    A few weeks ago, I saw sheep being slaughtered, skinned and butchered. They were killed quickly and cleanly.

    As for the “appropriateness” of whales being used as food, the Japanese have been eating them for centuries.

    Their culture is different from ours, and I think it would be very sad if our diplomatic or trade relations with them suffered because of a lack of moderation or compromise.

  6. I am generally opposed to whaling, however given that the footage from the Bob Barker shows the Adi Gil dead in the water and the Japanese ship healing towards it, the issue now is more a matter of prosecuting the captain of the Japanese ship.

    If Australia has declared this part of our sovereign waters a whale conservation area, surely, we should be telling the Japanese to push off and catch them elsewhere- just as we do with Tuna etc?

  7. I’m not against whaling (except that whale stocks should be managed correctly). It looks to me like this was a deliberate attempt by the Japanese ship to ram the Adi Gil.

    However, Sea Shepherd’s claim that this was an “unprovoked attack” seems pretty thin. The Institute of Cetacean Resarch, a Japanese pro-whaling body, released a video showing the Adi Gil crossing dangerously in front of a Japanese whaling ship – see here on YouTube. The video shows a rope being trailed behind the Adi Gil, which the ICR claims was being used to try to foul the rudder and propellers of the Japanese boat.

    Since the Adi Gil seems to be a quite fast and nimble boat, questions could also be asked about why it was so near the Japanese boat in the first place.

  8. I do agree with Andrew that whaling is a contentious issue that needs to have a positive resolution. On the cultural note, if anyone has seen some of the content on the ABC in recent years it actually isn’t widely seen as a pivotal part of Japanese cuisine, and besides, the Japanese are hunting whales under the dubious explanation of being entirely for scientific research.
    And just a quick note too, the legal complexity of the case is furthered by the fact that the Ady Gil is registered in New Zealand.

  9. The ABC news article has turned out to be wrong. TVNZ is now reporting that the Adi Gil was not sunk, but is tied up to another Sea Shepherd boat and salvage is possible.

    The ABC have changed their headline from “Whalers sink Sea Shepherd vessel” to “Whalers hit Sea Shepherd vessel”, with no acknowledgement of this change.

  10. No side in this matter is squeaky clean.

    I’ve seen the videos from both parties and to me it looks like the Shonen Maru 2 turned to get closer to the Ady Gil to better train its water cannons onto the smaller craft. It then started to turn away from the Ady Gil but the Ady Gil then accelerated into its path and was subsequently struck.

    From the video from onboard the Shonen Maru 2 you can distinctly see that engines of the Ady Gil appeared to have been throttled forward in the seconds before impact. Shortly after the impact the Ady Gil then went into hard reverse to clear the scene.

    So it appears that if the Japanese had not tried to get closer to the Ady Gil then the collision could have been avoided – but also if the Ady Gil had not powered into its path or had they reversed then that also would have prevented the impact.

  11. It’s not that long ago Australia was a whaling nation so our hypocrisy is a tad precious, along with our greedy breeding of blue fin tuna to sell at huge profit to Japan.

    It’s amazing though that many spend all this money to save some people’s food while 9 million kids die for lack of food every year.

    I have nothing against animals and think the protected species must be preserved but minkes are like the rabbits of the sea and are not particularly special.

    I would prefer a little more outrage about the Iraqis and Afghans we have helped to slaughter and who are still dying at a rate of 75,000 per annum in child birth while we waste hundreds of millions locking a few up if they come for our help.

  12. Whilst I agree that nobody down there is ‘clean’, and that a number of questionable tactics are being used on both sides, I respectfully disagree with MartinH. The Ady Gil was stationary, the Shonen Maru 2 turned towards the stationary vessel, the trimaran moved forward to get out of the way once its intention was known, the larger vessel turned to cover this movement, at the last second the trimaran threw it into reverse to save their lives and was struck in the bow. At some point the smaller craft would be out of sight of the bridge of the Shonen Maru due to the bow blocking their line of sight, but that point was reached very late in the scenario above – certainly after the Japanese vessel turned left to cover the avoiding action of the Ady Gil. It was a deliberate ramming action. Above all else is the international law of the sea – the avoidance of collision at sea. The Japanese captain appears culpable of a deliberate collision at sea.

  13. Thanks Jennifer. I saw that post (although I’m not sure Graham is quite saying the Japanese were ‘set up’ – just that the media and others were accepting the Sea Shepherd’s perspective unquestioningly). I’ve left a (rather long) comment there, but as I’ve implied above, I find it interesting that people can watch the same video footage and have such widely diverging views about what it shows – which usually happen to match their own view/bias about who are the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys. I am amazed that anyway can watch (especially the second) video and still genuinely believe that the Japanese ship didn’t deliberately aim at the small Sea Shepherd vessel. – but obviously they do. I suspect most of us are subject to “confirmation bias” to some degree. Certainly the widely differing interpretations people have of the videos would suggest this.

    David, I don’t think Sea Shepherd have made any secret of the fact they try to disrupt whaling vessels in this (and other) ways. It is one of the explicit reasons why they deployed the Andy Gil this time around (which is the fastest vessel of its type in the world – although obviously not fast enough to avoid a bloody huge ship from a standing start in the space of a couple of seconds – MartinH may be right in suggesting they may have got away if they’d powered into reverse rather than forwards, although I doubt they could have emerged unscathed either way). Many people disapprove of such tactics – including many anti-whaling people, but their confrontational approach is also part of why they have gained such support (something which I argue would be unlikely to occur where this involving defending any other animal).

    Lorikeet, one of the issues is that Australia’s Antarctic territorial claim (which includes some of the waters in question) is not recognised internationally, which means it is not feasible to enforce a charge for those who go whaling (or fishing) there. Or to enforce our laws over those seas – hence the whalers are able to operate in “Australia’s” Whale Sanctuary.

    Margi – I wouldn’t disagree with you in the main, although our welfare standards in regards to farmed animals – especially those in industrialised ‘farms’ – really pay no regard to animals welfare in any meaningful sense of the term (as opposed to the legal sense of the term). Which is relevant in regards to the ever developing scientific understanding of the behaviour, brain capacity, etc of some of those mammals (e.g. pigs living a lifetime in factory farms). But I think you’ve broadly captured what lies underneath – often unexpressed – many peoples’ particular opposition to whaling (and dolphin slaughter). (as opposed to Adam’s nonsense, which seems to just indicate he is the one with some “repressed feelings”)

  14. I find the whole ‘save the whale’ thing really weird.

    Whats the point of saving the whale when climate change (and particularly the acidification of the ocean) will wipe out the whales anyway (and humans for that matter) ?

    It just seems we can spend endless time discussing issues which are highly emotional versus the ones that really matter.

  15. its not about the whaling in australian waters it about just how far we as a nation will bend over for other countrys .i wonder what would happen if the positins were reversed .
    just have a look at what some other countrys are saying about us .we are fast becomming a joke that anyone can take advantage of in more ways than one.
    funny how australia has lost all its pollys that had some backbone .

  16. The idea that animals- which might be significantly more sensitive and intelligent than we know- are taking half a hour to die, bleeding to death- while also drowning- makes me want to party. Well done, us!

  17. Andrew,
    Thanks for a considered piece. NHK television has covered the incident for the domestic audience, and will hopefully continue to report regardless of source. NHK covered the departure of ADY GIL from Hobart, so seems prepared to extend it’s interests beyond sumo wrestling and baseball; which is the usual fodder for this season.

  18. Since no one appears to have legal sovereignty over the Antarctic waters, I guess whaling is “open slather” for anyone interested until this matter is resolved.

    Perhaps the Japanese are trying to deliver a message to interlopers such as the crew of the Sea Shepherd, since they have no legal right to stop them. Maybe they had better just stay out of the way and take their crippled craft back to NZ.


    Climate Change is a normal phenomenon. I suggest you pay a bit more attention as to who might be likely to benefit from the concomitant change in the Financial Climate, created by huge taxes on every commodity and service.

  19. You used the word “news” quite a lot in this post, but it’s dangerous to assume that allegations made by the protestors and repeated in the media are the last word.
    The protestors have had very little attention recently, and this incident is just what they needed. Can you really say that they are blameless here? Remember the “news” that Iraq had WMD and that we couldn’t possibly wait for the UN weapons inspectors to do their job? Our media don’t have a great reputation overall for accuracy or honesty.

  20. David, I don’t think Sea Shepherd have made any secret of the fact they try to disrupt whaling vessels in this (and other) ways. It is one of the explicit reasons why they deployed the Andy Gil this time around.

    What frustrates me about this is that the ABC at least is reporting with an enormous amount of bias towards Sea Shepherd’s side. In particular, the claims of the pro-whaling Institute of Cetacean Research should be reported by the ABC with as much weight as the anti-whaling Sea Shepherd Conservation Society – they are both parties to this issue.

    If this collision was a deliberate ram by the Japanese ship (which I agree seems likely) the Japanese claim that the Adi Gil was “attacking” the whaling ships should be investigated as well. While such attacks (if they happened) would not justify a deliberate ram (if it happened) they might mean that blame could also be attributed to the Adi Gil and Sea Shepherd in an official enquiry. It may also have a significant effect on public opinion.

    I think reasonable people on both sides of this argument should at least agree that the public has the right to be fully informed of both sides of the issue. It’s even possible, as you imply, that people would approve of Sea Shepherd’s harassment of whaling vessels. People have the right to take that position (I disagree with it), but people should be hearing all sides.

  21. Has any one translated what the Japanese crew was talking about when they rammed the Adi Gil. Or has that been edited out as well? Sea Shepherd other boat film was not picked up by main media and they just used the Japanese edited version. Maybe they waited til someone puts it on You-Tube and copy it. Kevin Rudd has gone to ground and has done nothing in 2 years. If Sea Shepherd can make whale murdering (slowly) to not show a profit for a couple more years, they will stop. This is govt. funded killing(Japanese tax payers) if they have any ? These guys and girls deserve a medal for going down and taking on the ruthless Japs.Australia should have a boat down there to film both of them and what goes on with the hunt. They have been proven to lie about Tuna numbers and cannot be trusted.

  22. i wonder why the japanese whalers dont chase whales in there own waters .
    oh i forgot they have eaten them all. like most of the other fish in there own waters.

    its about time the govt made its mind up they are either for it or against it but one way or the other . do something if against it send a ship down there if for it tell the ppl who elected them that they lied on the position of being against whaling . mabe they should step aside and let someone elce have a go.

    thats prity sad comming from someone who has voted for them all my life.

    what would you do andrew?

  23. @Andrew – thank you for a balanced opinion piece. My stance on eating mammals, whether land or water mammals agrees with yours. I stopped eating meat three decades ago because of my principles. There is no humane way to kill any animal, mammalian or not.

    I am concerned that the Australian government has appeared to turn a blind eye to what is, in effect, a vigilante group with tacit ‘under the table’ approval of their presence in the Southern Ocean. The Australian government has no legal power to stop the whaling so sending naval ships (or fisheries or customs) would just be a waste of money and misuse of very scarce resources. At least Labor got that part right now after posturing whilst in opposition – as the coalition is now doing. This is an issue that must be resolved diplomatically even though the Whaling Commission seems about as effective as the United Nations in resolving issues.

    The video footage is being used by both parties to their own advantage: it is all about getting the right media exposure and the Australian media is as complicit as any in taking sides rather than reporting news.

    I hope the investigation can be conducted quickly and the findings put into the public domain. I do not support the attempts by the Sea Shepherd ships to foul propellors by dragging ropes across the path of Japanese ships nor do I support either side using ships as weapons as happened last year and this year. Both sides are passionate for their beliefs but the loss of human life should be avoided.

  24. Andrew

    A few observations as someone who has lived in Japan for 3 decades:

    1. Most Japanese are either ambivalent or anti-whaling.
    2. The whaling loby, like most nationalistic groups in Japan, have a noise level that is far greater than their support base.
    3. There are hundreds of tons of whale meat sitting in frozen warehouses here without a home. Younger Japanese simply don’t and won’t eat it.
    4. The so-called research element is a farce. Where is the published data?
    5. Previously two fishery cmpanies were involved in the program. There is now one and the program is in huge deficit. The sale of whalemeat is meant to subsidise the program. No sales equals huge deficit. The program will bankrupt itself without government subsidy. This is the key to stopping the program.
    6. The japanese are not as unemotional as they seem. Someone on the bridge of the Japanese vessel simply snapped resulting in the collision.

  25. The Ady Gil was always intended to “physically block” whaling vessels, according to the story here: http://www.seashepherd.org/news-and-media/news-091020-1.html

    The Ady Gil knew they were running the risk of this exact event happening, so I’m not sure exactly how seriously I can take their cries of foulplay.

    However, I agree the footage of the Japanese vessel turning in doesn’t paint a sympathetic picture to the whalers. Clearly both parties have questions to answer.

  26. CENTURION48:

    If there is ‘no humane way to kill any animal, mammalian or not’, should we do everything we can to stop animals from killing and eating each other?

    You do know that those whales kill millions of other sea creatures each? Isn’t the suffering *reduced* by killing the whales? Just think of those poor little krill and other small animals killed slowly by the whale’s stomach acid!

  27. Sigh

    The use of the wording ‘deliberately rammed’ is simply not correct. I have ‘been there and done that’, and I am appalled at the unseamanlike, imprudent – and indeed highly dangerous – actions of the master of the black trimaran. While the levels of blame in this collision will be a matter for an Admiralty Court to decide, one thing is certain.

    The collision was not a deliberate act by the Master of Shonan Maru No.2, and the close-quarter situation was deliberately created by the master of the black trimaran. As a former professional seafarer, prima facie evidence of the three videos I have seen indicates that the Master of the black trimaran was grossly negligent in that he deliberately flouted the COLREGs (especially Rule 2, and the ones discussed below). In doing so, he endangered the safety of his ship and the lives of his crew, and those of other seafarers on their lawful occasions (however much anyone might disagree with them).

    These are the things it is a Master’s primary responsibility to preserve. I will follow the inevitable court case with interest.

    As one who earned his living on deep water for a few years (and this included rule-of-the-road fun as a matter of routine), I am qualified to comment on this, with caveats.

    What do the regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at sea say?

    Rule 7
    Risk of collision

    (a) Every vessel shall use all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions to determine if risk of collision exists. If there is any doubt such risk shall be deemed to exist.

    (b) Proper use shall be made of radar equipment if fitted and operational, including long-range scanning to obtain early warning of risk of collision and radar plotting or equivalent systematic observation of detected objects.

    (c) Assumptions shall not be made on the basis of scanty information, especially scanty radar information.

    (d) In determining if risk of collision exists the following considerations shall be among those taken into account:

    (i) such risk shall be deemed to exist if the compass bearing of an approaching vessel does not appreciably change;
    (ii) such risk may sometimes exist even when an appreciable bearing change is evident, particularly when approaching a very large vessel or a tow or when approaching a vessel at close range.

    OK. Does a risk of collision exist?

    Yes. Most definitely. Please note 7.d.i & ii. Note that the bearing of black vessel is moving RIGHT at the start (2nd video): ie, it is being overtaken by Shonan Maru BUT the range is closing rapidly. The black vessel is underway and making way. She is not stopped. We’ll get back to this.

    Now look at Vid 1 (from the second vessel): Shonan Maru is behaving typically of a small vessel in a seaway where the vessel is steaming in to it, she is yawing about her course and the helmsman therefore has to keep working the helm to keep her on course.

    She definitely alters to starboard too late to avoid collision.

    However, who is responsible for the close quarters situation here?

    The black vessel is. She is interfering with the Japanese, who are lawfully engaged in fisheries activites on the high seas.

    Rule 8

    Action to avoid collision

    (a) Any action to avoid collision shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, be positive, made in ample time and with due regard to the observance of good seamanship.

    Here, both captains can be criticised. Neither took positive action in ample time to avoid collision.

    (b) Any alteration of course and/or speed to avoid collision shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, be large enough to be readily apparent to another vessel observing visually or by radar; a succession of small alterations of course and/or speed should be avoided.

    (c) If there is sufficient sea-room, alteration of course alone may be the most effective action to avoid a close-quarters situation provided that it is made in good time, is substantial and does not result in another close-quarters situation.

    Again, both can be criticised here

    (d) Action taken to avoid collision with another vessel shall be such as to result in passing at a safe distance. The effectiveness of the action shall be carefully checked until the other vessel is finally past and clear.

    (e) If necessary to avoid collision or allow more time to assess the situation, a vessel shall slacken her speed or take all way off by stopping or reversing her means of propulsion.

    We do not need to consider part f i to iii

    Rule 15

    Crossing situation

    When two power-driven vessels are crossing so as to involve risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on her own starboard side shall keep out of the way and shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel.

    The Black vessel’s owners will make their case on Rule 15. They will claim that Shonan Maru did not give way in a crossing situation. However, there’s a real twist to this sorry piece of stupidity, below)

    Rule 16

    Action by give- way vessel

    Every vessel which is directed to keep out of the way of another vessel shall, so far as possible, take early and substantial action to keep well clear.

    Again, the Captain of the black vessel will make a case based also on Rule 16, that Shonan Maru did not take ‘early and substantial action’ to keep clear in this ‘crossing situation’.

    Rule 17

    Action by stand-on vessel

    (a) (i) Where one of two vessels is to keep out of the way the other shall keep her course and speed.

    But hang on a minute. The black vessel DID NOT obey Rule 17.1. She DID NOT keep her course and speed. So, do we actually have a crossing situation? Shonan Maru now has a case to say ‘no’.

    (ii) The latter vessel may however take action to avoid collision by her manoeuvre alone, as soon as it becomes apparent to her that the vessel required to keep out of the way is not taking appropriate action in compliance with these Rules.

    Again, the black vessel, if her captain thought her in a crossing situation, DID NOT obey this regulation.

    (b) When, from any cause, the vessel required to keep her course and speed finds herself so close that collision cannot be avoided by the action of the give-way vessel alone, she shall take such action as will best aid to avoid collision.

    And again, the black vessel did not do this.

    (c) A power-driven vessel which takes action in a crossing situation in accordance with subparagraph (a)(ii) of this Rule to avoid collision with another power-driven vessel shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, not alter course to port for a vessel on her own port side.

    Caveat – this is open. The black vessel may or may not have altered to port just before impact.

    (d) This Rule does not relieve the give-way vessel of her obligation to keep out of the way.

    This means that IF the Shonan Maru was the give way vessel, she should have given way.

    Now we get to the really interesting bit. On Vid 2 (from Shonan Maru), look at the black vessel.

    How did she get there? Everything depends on this question.

    How did the black vessel get to her position on the starboard bow of Shonan Maru?

    Caveat: Assumption. The video does not show how the black vessel obtainer her position – but Shonan Maru is not doing more that 10-12 knots, not yawing like that into a head sea slightly on her starboard bow.

    IF the black vessel obtained her position by overtaking Shonan Maru, then most of the above is moot, because Rule 13 applies:

    Rule 13


    (a) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Rules of part B, sections I and II, any vessel overtaking any other shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken.

    (b) A vessel shall be deemed to be overtaking when coming up with another vessel from a direction more than 22.5 degrees abaft her beam, that is, in such a position with reference to the vessel she is overtaking, that at night she would be able to see only the sternlight of that vessel but neither of her sidelights.

    (c) When a vessel is in any doubt as to whether she is overtaking another, she shall assume that this is the case and act accordingly.

    (d) Any subsequent alteration of the bearing between the two vessels shall not make the overtaking vessel a crossing vessel within the meaning of these Rules or relieve her of the duty of keeping clear of the overtaken vessel until she is finally past and clear.

    Note this rule very carefully. IF the black vessel overtook Shonan Maru, then she is completely at fault for this collision (part d).

    You cannot convert an overtaking situation into a crossing situation.

    Looking at the wake of the black vessel, she is underway, making way, and I believe there is a strong chance she was the overtaking vessel.

  28. First video been removed for violations.Wonder if these GreenPeace ships would be welcome in Nippon waters?Perhaps the Japanese are having a lot of problems now and this publicity is failing to be a unifying emphasis.

  29. Geoffrey Walker:

    Then what is your take on the reasoning behind the Japanese killing more whales, if they have such massive amounts of whale meats in storage?

    Do you think they want to use the blubber as an alternative source of fuel?

    Are they stockpiling whale meat in anticipation of the enforcement of a total ban on whaling?

    Or are they using the whales for scientific research?

    Chris Donges:

    Yes, you make some excellent points regarding the cruel killing of food animals as part of the cycle of nature within the food chain.

    Last night I watched a documentary about lions. When the male leader of the pride was given a severe beaten and driven off by younger males, a lioness and her sister had to go into hiding for one of them to give birth to her 2 cubs.

    They had to keep the cubs in isolation so the new males of the pride (two brothers) wouldn’t kill them. The lionesses became very hungry, so when some wilderbeast came along, they brought one down and killed it in a most inhumane fashion and started feasting on it.

    Then mother lioness quickly rushed back to check on her well hidden cubs which had ventured out to play, not realising the danger.

    One of the lions had killed them both, leaving her devastated. She cried all night for the loss of her dead offspring. Then the lion came back in the morning to take both of his “women” back to the pride.

    When the males kill the other guy’s cubs, the lionesses cease lactating, which brings them into heat more quickly, so they can bear the offspring of the new males.

    I found this really upsetting – especially when I compared the behaviour of lions with that of some men and most women, and found it to be quite similar.

    Red Crab:

    I think we already know what Andrew would do, since he is a vegan.

  30. I have now had a long hard look at Sea Shepherd’s site.

    Professionally speaking, I am appalled.

    Their standards of basic seamanship, of basic competence, are indescribably bad. I have seen better on a ‘ship of shame’ and that’s saying something.

    The ‘Master’ of their main vessel (MV Steve Irwin): well let me say that I do not believe he could safely operate a small craft in an internal waterway. Their ‘crew’ appears to be untrained neophytes incapable of performing any function competently.

    I wondered why she was Dutch registered as a yacht. Now I know. It is so that they avoid port state evaluation.

    If this vessel docks in Australia, she should be subject to a full, complete and absolutely merciless port state inspection.

    They are an active danger to themselves and to all other seafarers.


  31. This video (while almost definitely Japanese propoganda) gives some more insight into the types of manuevers that the Ady Gil was performing.


    The Ady Gil was most certainly at times overtaking the Shonen Maru 2 and crossing its path and also shining green lasers at the Japanese craft.

  32. That’s a very good question Red Crab! If you don’t mind, I’ll take a bit longer to think about it – (although Lorikeet apparently already knows what I would, so maybe you should ask her instead. It must be nice to know what other people think before they’ve expressed a view).

    Leaving aside all the argy bargy about who was at fault with this specific collision, the key point of my post was to query where things might or could go from here. And it could to some quite unpleasant places. (I am assuming you mean what would I do if I was in government).

    Thanks for your experienced insights Mark. I’ve seen and read others with apparent experience and legal expertise in the rules/laws of the sea who have come to the opposite conclusion, but you get that with legal opinions are like that I guess. Also, as I’ve said here and elsewhere, it seems people see very different things while looking at the same pictures.

    In any case all of the stuff about technical interpretations of the rules for prevention of collisions at sea while interesting and valid up to a point, tends to also ignore the wider context. These two vessels didn’t appear alongside each other just prior to the collision – they’ve been at each other in the ocean one way or another since before Xmas. During that time, both have undoubtedly been breaching a range of rules for conduct at sea.

    It is part of the tactics of both sides to get close to each other – Sea Shepherd to harass and hinder the progress or damage equipment of some of the whaling fleet, Whalers to harass, hinder and counter the efforts of the Sea Shepherd folks. I presume it is against the laws of the sea for a large vessel to be training a high pressure water cannon/hose on a small one, or to train a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) on them – which is specifically designed to cause nausea and disorientation. They seek to get as close as possible to the other vessel when using these things.

    If you’ve looked at the Sea Shepherd site, you will know this is an escalated version of what has been developing ever since the day Greenpeace decided not to push the point in the face of direct aggression from whaling ships, and Sea Shepherd decided otherwise.

    You either back down in the face of that (usually the very wise thing to do), or you don’t – and if you don’t then inevitably things will escalate.

    In one sense, what happened was inevitable.

    None of that changes assessments about whether the ramming of the Sea Shepherd boat was deliberate or not. You can always plead provocation or self-defence, but you can’t deny the whaling vessel struck the Sea Shepherd one and the video evidence suggests very strongly to me that it was either deliberate or a badly miscalculated attempt to intimidate.

    Perhaps it was just a case of miscalculations (on both sides), combined with the confusion of high power water spray and the nausea-inducing LRAD going off – combined with the fact these facts have been out there and at each other since before Christmas, which may create a greater propensity for a bit of ‘sea rage’.

    My main point – to go back to where this comment started – is that it will heat up the issue even more – maybe this will help force the issue in the long run, maybe it will create wider uglier problems.

  33. Andrew:

    I thought you would try to make both sides go home and never come back again, since you are completely against the consumption of any kind of animal product.

  34. I see. Any ideas on how I was going to “make” both sides do this?

    I don’t think it’s any secret I’m anti-whaling – not least since I linked to a post on this blog from back in 2005 saying so.

    I am assuming Red Crab’s question went more to the idea of ‘what would I do now in this situation’ if I was in government, not what would i do if I could wave a magic wand and bring about my ideal world. But if you do have any ideas about how to “make both sides go home and never come back”, I’d love to hear it. (I don’t think getting the Sea Shepherd folks to stay away would be any problem as long as the whalers were going to – they don’t go down there for the sight-seeing)

    I’ll try to respond to your query tomorrow Red Crab

  35. Andrew:

    I’m waiting to see what Geoffrey Walker has to say in answer to my questions. At this point, it seems unclear what the Japanese want to use the whales for.

    Perhaps they want to make a buck when whaling is completely banned, since their country is in recession. That would certainly be one explanation for freezing huge amounts of whale meat in large chunks.

    Perhaps they want to grab as many whales as they can, before anyone has the legal power to stop them.

    Or maybe they want to manufacture a vaccine which would be sure to bring in billions of dollars, after someone has artificially created a new and “deadly” Whale Flu.

    I don’t think canning people’s access to animal foods is the answer to anything. I think it is an extremist idea which could lead to food shortages.

    I’m not sure that the government can do anything much if we don’t have sovereignty over the Antarctic waters, except to push for sovereignty and ask both the Japanese and Greenies to stop scuttling one another until territorial claims are sorted out.

    To make both sides go home and never come back, you would also need a worldwide ban on whaling, of which I would not be in favour.

    Then Australia’s “ocean police” would need to arrest the captains of any non-compliant vessels to hammer home the message.

    I think a quota system (and PAYMENT) would be better, and I’m sure scientists could come up with a more humane method of slaughter.

  36. thanks Andrew for providing a site that has in the main, reasoned and relatively intelligent comment on this issue, I despair for humanity on reading some of the comments on this issue on sites such as youtube. The degree of ignorance regarding the japanese whaling ” research “is abominable.
    Let me just say this,regarding attitudes towards use of the sea by the Japanese government , it has a very bad track record . the seas around japan have been so overfished that they are now infested with giant jellyfish – why?- because the fish that used to eat the jellyfish are no longer there to eat the billions of immature jellyfish that just one adult can create. Recently a 10 ton trawler overturned when its nets were full of jellyfish.
    its this sort of systematic thoughtless destruction of the marine environment thats going to be the death of our civilization if we do not change course soon. Whales are a symbol of this , I had hoped that the fight we had in the 70s to outlaw this barbaric and unnecessary practice was over, but its been revived for political reasons- not financial ones as this program is being heavily sponsored.
    if we can decide to cruelly kill animals that are amongst the most intelligent just because ” we can ” and justify the killing because ‘ we are carnivores and thats what we do ” argument ( run by many on youtube and other forums , then this shows to me a staggering lack of empathy with our environment – we should have evolved beyond this by now and our lack of ability to collectively do so bodes ill for our long term survival.

  37. Dave L:
    You have my full agreement.

    In reference to your questions to Geoffrey Walker and your later comment:
    “I think a quota system (and PAYMENT) would be better, and I’m sure scientists could come up with a more humane method of slaughter.”
    That you ask such questions or make such statements shows that you have either not sought to inform yourself about this topic, or are just seeking to be provocative for the sake of it.

    I would like to think it is the former. If you care to do some research I think that you will find that such a regime has been in development and discussion for some 15 years within the International Whaling Commission. The Japanese Government makes no secret of its intent to continuing this southern ocean whaling for so-called scientific purposes – to establish what a sustainable take of whales might be (a bit like the Vietnam protest movement slogan: “fighting for peace is like #### for virginity”). They have made no claim to ‘need’ for these whales (note that ‘need’ is a legal definition within the ICRW). The needs claim they fail to make each year, relates only to north pacific hunts. As for humane slaughter – well that too has been debated for years and it is the whalers themselves who resist any progress.

    If it is the latter, then you are simply displaying bad manners, but I expect you know that already.

    This annual battle has gone on for so long now, that almost everyone who works in this area are at their wits-end, and so I share Andrew’s sentiments that this event was, to some extent, inevitable.

  38. Red Crab:

    In response to your question as to “what would I do”, I am assuming you mean if I was ‘the government’.

    The first thing I’d do would be to a full look at all the legal advice the federal government has undoubtedly been given on this issue over the years. I have heard a range of different opinions over the years (as is common with legal advice), so it would be good to read the ‘official’ advice.

    As I understand it (and this is just my view, not a formal legal opinion, which I’m not qualified to give – someone such as Margi has more expertise in this area than I do), there are various types of legal action the federal government could take. For example, they could pursue action through the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. There are varying views about the chances of ‘winning’, but also varying views about what could happen after that, regardless.

    My understanding is the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary – where all commercial whaling is banned – was created through the International Whaling Commission. However, while Japan is a member nation, they can either lodge reservations to particular rules of the IWC (which I think they already have done in regards to minke whales) – thus making them not ‘bound’ by it – or they can pull out of the Commission all together and do what they want. And as mentioned in comments above, the Southern Whale Sanctuary is in Antarctic waters – including in Australian Antarctic Territory – and territorial sovereignty of this is far from certain under international law.

    So even if Australia ‘won’ a court case, the consequence could be Japan saying ‘get stuffed’ and doing whatever they want – which might lead to even more of a free for all (although other whale species are covered by a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, so there may be other avenues there). In a worst case scenario, the case might also lead to a definitive assertion that Australia doesn’t have sovereignty in Antarctica – which might even unpick all the claims by other nations to other parts of that continent, leading to even less control over what happens down there (although there is a separate Antarctic Treaty, which doesn’t deal with sovereignty but does bind nations to not doing things there like military deployment, so that wouldn’t be directly affected).

    Anyway, all I’m saying is that court action could have a lot of less than ideal flow on consequences, even if Australia ‘won’ the case. Which is why I’d want to fully read all the advice first. (Although I would say that is the advice does warn of big dangers in taking court action, it would have been incredibly irresponsible of both the previous and current governments to have continually created the public impression that this is a viable option – so I certainly hope that the advice doesn’t say this.)

    Separate to that, the other thing I’d do would be to explore all avenues that Australian law could be used to ensure Australian facilities or businesses were not able to be used to assist the whalers (other than in genuine humanitarian emergency – for example, if a vessel was floundering or some whaling crew were seriously injured and needed to get to the nearest medical centre). This wouldn’t stop whaling, but it would at least show we were sufficiently genuine as a nation in our opposition to whaling that we are prepared to forgo even the smallest financial gain from it.

    If we were more supportive and flexible with some Pacific Island nations, we also might get better support from some of them at meetings of the International Whaling Convention, which wouldn’t hurt.

    I suppose we could also explore whether there was more the USA could do, given their much greater leverage over Japan, but I think that is starting to stretch things. Much as I’m against whaling, I think we should use our diplomatic capital with the USA on other things.

    I’m also not in favour of trade sanctions or boycotts – I think that would be highly counter-productive. People are always free to make such choices at a personal level if they feel strongly enough about it, but I think this is not the right sort of issue for that sort of action at a government level. Given all the brutal dictatorships we trade freely with, it would look ridiculous if we instituted boycotts over whaling – even though it is indisputably a cruel practice.


    To ensure all comments and debate happens in a single spot, I would ask any readers who wished to leave comments on this topic to now do so at the bottom of the more recent whaling piece I have now posted at this link.

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