Major backlash if whaler spills, N.Z. prime minister says

Kyodo

Japan will face an international backlash if the Nisshin Maru, Japan’s whale-processing ship that has been damaged by fire, causes an environmental disaster in the Antarctic, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said Monday.

The Nisshin Maru has been stranded without power since the fire last Thursday. The fire claimed the life of crew member Kazutaka Makita, 27, and forced more than 100 others to evacuate to other vessels in the six-vessel whaling fleet.

The Esperanza of Greenpeace, a former salvage vessel, reached the 8,030-ton Nisshin Maru on Saturday morning and is offering to tow the whaler out of the Antarctic Ocean.

The Japanese fleet has asked Greenpeace to stand by, after vowing last week to refuse help from any environmental activists.

Clark called on the Japanese fleet to sort the situation out.

“My advice is if you can’t see a way of getting the boat out of there without some help from Greenpeace or from somebody else, the world is going to be very upset if there is a spill in that area,” she said. “At the moment, the Japanese are saying, ‘We can cope.’ They’d better be right.”

The Nisshin Maru is carrying more than 1,000 tons of oil and is drifting about 175 km from Antarctica’s large penguin breeding grounds.