SYDNEY – Sea Shepherd antiwhaling activist Paul Watson said Friday his group is prepared for this year’s campaign against Japanese whaling near Antarctica and he rejects the conclusions of New Zealand’s investigation into a collision at sea earlier this year.
Speaking in Sydney, Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, said this season’s antiwhaling campaign, dubbed “Operation No Compromise,” is already on.
“We’re better equipped now than ever before. Every year the Japanese whaling fleet gets weaker (and) we get stronger,” he said, insisting his group’s upcoming campaign will fare better than last year’s.
Watson said the new fast interceptor vessel Ocean Adventurer, currently in Fremantle, Western Australia, will join the former Norwegian harpoon vessel Bob Barker in Hobart, Tasmania, along with the flagship vessel Steve Irwin, which is currently en route to the southern city, the closest point to the Southern Ocean.
All three vessels, with about 80 crew members, will set sail on Dec. 2 to confront the Japanese whalers in Antarctic waters, he said, adding that he expects the Japanese fleet to leave Japan any day now and arrive in Antarctic waters around Dec. 18.
Watson said he believes the whalers will be more assertive this coming season.
“Australia and New Zealand have virtually given the green light to (Japan to) be more aggressive by doing nothing,” he said in regard to an incident last January in which the whaling vessel Shonan Maru No. 2 chopped off the bow of Sea Shepherd’s New Zealand-registered speedboat the Ady Gil, which later sank.
Watson also said he disagrees with the findings contained in New Zealand maritime authorities’ investigation report released Wednesday, in which both parties were blamed for the collision. “I think New Zealand is trying to sit on the fence here and keep everybody happy by saying both people are at fault,” he said.
“The report admits the Ady Gil had the right of way, it admits the Shonan Maru was the overtaking vessel, it admits the Shonan Maru should have avoided the collision and it admits the Shonan Maru deliberately turned into the Ady Gil — and then it says they are only 50 percent responsible for the collision, which seems very strange for me,” he said.
The report also found that the 16-ton Ady Gil failed to maintain an effective lookout and failed to respond appropriately once the collision risk was apparent, choosing instead to maintain course and speed.
Watson said that even though the incident was perhaps the most documented collision in maritime history, the investigation can hardly be called conclusive in the absence of the Japanese government’s cooperation and that of the Shonan Maru No. 2 captain.
When asked whether special steps will be taken by Sea Shepherd to prevent a similar incident, he merely said, “We’re prepared for them to be more aggressive, we’re prepared to disrupt their operations as efficiently as we can.”
Currently doing fundraising work in Australia before heading to Hobart to board the Steve Irwin, Watson believes his group is on the right track.
“Over the past five years, we’ve cut their profits, we’re speaking the language they understand, they’re $200 million in debt on subsidy loans to the Japanese government and we’ve saved over 2,000 whales from being killed, so I think we’re having an impact.”