A group of Australian environmental campaigners were yesterday forced to withdraw from their high-seas pursuit of Japanese whalers to refuel, giving the harpooners a fortnight to hunt freely.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessel has been tailing the Japanese whaling fleet for the past two weeks, chasing them some 2,000 nautical miles (3,200km) through ice, rough seas and fog off Antarctica.
Captain Paul Watson says the pursuit has prevented the Japanese from spearing any of the giant sea mammals, by keeping the fleet under pressure and driving them east.
But Watson was forced to abort his campaign yesterday, as dwindling fuel supplies drove the vessel, the Steve Irwin, back to shore.
“We have engaged them, we have stopped their whaling activities for two weeks and we have successfully chased them out of the Australian Antarctic Territorial waters,” he said. “We now have to return to land to refuel. It will probably take us two weeks and then we’ll be back again.”
Watson expressed frustration that the Japanese would have two weeks to hunt at will, but said his crew had no choice.
“We don’t have the luxury of refueling at sea like the Japanese fleet has. We don’t have the resources to operate two ships down here and we don’t have the support of Greenpeace to relieve us,” he said.
“We are doing the best we can with the resources available to us and we are having a significant impact on their kills,” Watson said.
The conservation group is in its fifth year of trailing whaling ships in the Southern Ocean, where Japan kills hundreds of the mammals a year in the name of scientific research, bypassing an international commercial moratorium.
Whale meat is a delicacy in Japan and Tokyo accuses critics of insensitivity to its whaling culture.