A Japanese whaling ship has begun moving away from the Antarctic coast under its own power, an official said yesterday -- 10 days after fire crippled it and left it stricken near the world's biggest Adelie penguin rookery.
"The Nisshin Maru is moving northward at the moment, away from the coast," a spokesman for Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research, Glenn Inwood, told reporters.
"But they're not leaving the Antarctic," he added, despite mounting pressure from New Zealand and environmentalists for the vessel to quit the area.
Nisshin Maru, the whale processing ship of the Japanese whaling fleet, has been stranded in the Ross Sea since a fire broke out on its lower decks Feb. 15, and has been drifting, lashed to two other whaling fleet boats.
Japan has been determined that the ship move under its own steam, while New Zealand and conservationists say offers of help to tow the ship away should be accepted to ease fears it could spill oil or other toxic chemicals near Antarctica's largest penguin rookery.
The vessel is carrying 1.3 million liters of fuel oil. None has leaked from the ship. One sailor died in the blaze.
International environmental protection group Greenpeace, whose anti-whaling vessel Esperanza has been close to the Japanese whalers for several days, confirmed the ship was moving under its own steam.
Inwood said crew would spend the next two to three days checking and testing that all systems on the ship.
"By Wednesday they expect to make a decision to either stay or leave the Antarctic," Inwood said.
"Ideally they can stay down there and spend the next two to three weeks completing the research [annual whale hunt]," he said, after it was disrupted by the fire that crippled the vessel.
Japan says its annual whale hunts, this year for 945 whales, are for research, but environmental groups say they are a pretext to keep Japan's whaling industry alive. The whale meat from the hunt is sold for food.
The International Whaling Commission imposed a global ban on commercial whaling in 1986.
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