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At War for the Whales: #5 It All Pays Off

The final part in this series about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's journey to stop illegal whaling...

Written by Wietse Van Der Werf

Illustration by Anieszka Banks

After the night watches in the engine room I tend to go straight to bed and get as much sleep as possible before the next watch starts eight hours later. However, what is ed this morning is different. After the Ady Gil, discount our high-tech trimaran, buy was rammed and sunk by a harpoon ship a month earlier, its captain Pete Bethune has moved in with us. It seems that diplomacy on its own is going to do little to get him and his crew the justice they deserve. The deliberate collision caused by the Japanese ship endangered the life of his crew as well as causing the loss of the 3 million dollar vessel. Pete was a man with a plan and tonight he would set out for mission impossible: go out into the freezing waters of the Southern Ocean on a small jet ski, board a ship moving at speed and make a citizens arrest on its captain. The Shonan Maru 2 which had sunken the Ady Gil was still following us. Only a few miles behind us, Pete was determined to get his justice and put diplomatic pressure on the Japanese and New Zealand goverments to finally act against the illegal and dangerous actions of the whaling fleet.

Illustration by Anieszka Banks

Everyone fills the crew mess to say their goodbyes to Pete and wish him all the best for the mission. ‘Your courage and determination is admirable’ I say. ‘Without you topping up the oil everyday we wouldn’t be here’ he smiles. Since Pete joined the ship I’ve got to know him as a jolly and ambitious character. If there is anyone cut out for this job, it is him. Some of the crew had their doubts on whether the risky plan would work, but this morning Pete is so self-assured of success that he eliminates any doubt any of us had. After the jet ski is lowered in the water, we eagerly await any news. It all goes remarkably smoothly.

Photo by Adam Lau/Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

He falls during the first boarding attempt but was back on the jet ski again in minutes. In the second attempt he cuts through the security netting with a knife and climbs onboard. He then proceeds to walk up to the very top deck where he waits (without being noticed) for the remainder of night. At the break of daylight we launch the helicopter. With the cameras rolling Pete makes his way to the bridge to make contact with the Shonan Maru crew. He knocks on the bridge door and waits. Someone opens the door looking amazingly bewildered. Checking over the side; no boat to be seen. How did this man get here? Pete continues to hand over a letter ordering the arrest of the captain for sinking his vessel and for payment of $3 million in damages. The Japanese crew member tries to shoo Pete away and then goes back inside, leaving Pete to make his own in. This is the last we see of him. The media has since reported that Pete will be taken back to Japan for questioning and possible prosecution for ‘acts of piracy’.

Photo by Adam Lau/Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

We are stuck in ice again, lots of ice. This time it is not just us but the Nisshin Maru too. It takes hours of slow manoeuvring and avoiding the larger of the ice chunks, before we are in open water again. During the day I work outside, pumping lubrication oil into a tank from our spare barrels. An albatross lands on deck and walks towards me. It walks over my feet as if I’m not there and settles for a nice spot in between my legs by cuddling up against one of my boots. I stand there frozen, not sure what to do. Whenever I move, it moves with me. This beautiful bird, which travels thousands of miles along its migration routes has possibly never seen a human being before. It struck me that although we as humans push numerous species of animals and plants to extinction in our ever greater need to develop, grow and keep the profits up, it is me that is the alien species here, invading this bird’s habitat.

Photo:  It’s A Wildlife

That evening, running low on fuel, we are forced to head back to land.  With whaling stopped for over 3 weeks, this is the longest and most successful anti-whaling campaign in the Southern Ocean to date. For the last few weeks we were right where we wanted to be most. The one place where we can be sure that all illegal whaling operations in the Southern Ocean have stopped. It is here, right behind the Nisshin Maru that our months of preparation and hard work pay off. One by one the whaling ships that surrounded us before have dropped off our radar screen. Three harpoon ships sailed off over the horizon not be seen again and after Pete Bethune boarded the Shonan Maru, this one too is out of action. I stood outside on deck last night and looked at the factory ship in front of us for one last time before we turned and headed back to port. I felt a great sense of pride, to know that in the 21st century it is still a committed, dedicated and hard working group of ordinary people that can bring about the change needed to keep this planet healthy and sane. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.

Photo: Eric Cheng / Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

For latest updates and news, please see the Sea Shepherd website

To read about all this from the beginning see part 1, part 2part 3, and part 4


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