Mon, Feb 19, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Japanese whaling vessel refuses tow from Greenpeace

EARLY END TO SEASON?The only Japanese ship in the Southern Ocean capable of processing whale carcasses has been damaged in a deadly fire

AP , WELLINGTON

The crew of a Japanese whaling ship stranded in Antarctic waters by a fatal fire were attempting yesterday to repair its engines so that they can reach safety by their own power rather than accept a tow from Greenpeace, an official said.

Peter Williams, deputy director of the rescue agency Maritime New Zealand, said the threat of an environmental disaster from the 1,000 tonnes of fuel aboard the 8,000-tonne Nisshin Maru was not immediate because the weather forecast was good for the next three days.

"But our concern is that conditions can change very quickly in the Southern Ocean," Williams said.

The crew had established that the ship had not suffered structural damage, he said.

The Nisshin Maru is the only ship in a Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean able to process whale carcasses and the season may have to be abandoned if the ship is inoperable.

New Zealand officials and environmentalists have expressed concern that the stricken factory ship -- left without engine power by the fire on Thursday and carrying 500,000 liters of heavy oil and 800,000 liters of furnace oil -- could threaten the Antarctic's biggest penguin rookery at Cape Adare, about 175km away.

Williams said he did not know what the crew had done with the body of a 27-year-old crewman killed in the blaze that was found below deck on Saturday. A cause of the blaze has not been announced.

The Nisshin Maru was being assisted by three ships of the Japanese whaling fleet, the largest a 9,000 tonne tanker, he said.

But the Greenpeace ship at the scene, Esperanza -- a converted Russian tug -- was the most suitable to provide a tow, he said. The whalers have refused Greenpeace's offers of assistance.

Any commercial tug was at least a week away and one with icebreaking capability might not be available, he said.

The US Coastguard icebreaker Polar Sea had left the scene and was headed to the southern Australian port of Hobart, Williams said.

Japan's Fisheries Agency said on Saturday officials had not given up hope of reviving the vessel, though they were not sure if the expedition could go on.

The fleet planned to hunt up to 945 whales from mid-December to the middle of next month. It was not immediately known how many whales have been killed so far.

Japan says its annual whale hunts, begun after the International Whaling Commission imposed a global ban on commercial whaling in 1986, are for research. The meat from the whales they catch is sold as food.

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