nisshin maru sun laurel collision

The Nisshin Maru ramming the Sun Laurel.
© Sea Shepherd/Glenn Lockitch 2013

By Captain Paul Watson

The captain of the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru lost his temper, and unfortunately road rage with an 8,000 ton ship in remote waters amongst icebergs and ice packs can be somewhat intimidating, as we all learned very dramatically today.

Where to begin?

I don’t think we have ever had a more eventful few hours in the nine years we have been opposing the whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and certainly there has never been a day when all of our ships were rammed one after another. It is also the first time we have ever been rammed by the Nissin Maru, and to top it all off, the Japanese factory ship four times rammed and damaged their own supply tanker, the Sun Laurel.

Some photos and a video of the ramming can be found HERE

I am sure the Japanese will justify the ramming of four ships on the high seas as accidental, after all nothing down here in the Southern Whale Sanctuary ever seems to be their fault.

But how did this all begin?

It began when the Sun Laurel deliberately ventured south of Sixty Degrees, entering the Antarctic Treaty Zone with a cargo of Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) for the Nisshin Maru. It is illegal to bring HFOs into the protected waters of Antarctica, and also illegal to transfer heavy fuel oil to another ship.

The refueling operation was planned to happen yesterday but the three Sea Shepherd ships, the Sam Simon, the Bob Barker and the Steve Irwin, had taken up positions around the Sun Laurel to block any approach by the Nisshin Maru.

At 0230 Hours, in darkness, the Nisshin Maru and the Panamanian-registered tanker Sun Laurel ventured into a thick ice pack in an attempt to shake off the Sea Shepherd ships. This was not a responsible move. The Sun Laurel is not an ice class vessel and has no business taking such a dangerous cargo into an ice pack.

The Sea Shepherd ships held their position, making it difficult for the Nisshin Maru to come alongside their tanker.

The Sun Laurel was advised that they could refuel the Nisshin Maru north of Sixty degrees South. The Nisshin Maru insisted, however, that the factory ship be refueled illegally some 360 miles south of Sixty Degrees.

At 1020 Hours the Nisshin Maru moved closer to the stern of the Sun Laurel as the three Japanese harpoon vessels began to circle with their water cannons shooting towards the Sea Shepherd ships. They were joined by a fourth Japanese vessel, the Shonan Maru #2, their armed security ship, the same ship that had rammed and destroyed the New Zealand-flagged Ady Gil in 2010.

The Nisshin Maru moved in still closer, with three harpoon vessels closing in on the port quarter of the Steve Irwin.

At 1050 Hours, with the Sun Laurel pushing through thick ice, the Nisshin Maru shortened the distance between their bow and the stern of the Steve Irwin.

The Nisshin Maru kept edging closer in an effort to intimidate the Sea Shepherd Ships and it was indeed intimidating. The Nisshin Maru towered above our ships at ten times the size.

At 1227 Hours, the Bosun on the tanker Sun Laurel warned the Nisshin Maru to stop because they were dangerously close, but the factory ship continued to move closer, pinching the Steve Irwin between their massive hull and the side of the tanker. The Bob Barker then moved into position to defend the Steve Irwin and attempted to block the Japanese poaching ship.

As this was happening, crew on the Nisshin Maru were throwing concussion grenades and hitting both the Bob Barker and the Steve Irwin with powerful water cannons. At 12:56 Hours, the Nisshin Maru came up behind the Steve Irwin, hitting the Sea Shepherd vessel twice, once on the port stern, and again on the port side, damaging the helicopter deck and pushing the Steve Irwin towards the Sun Laurel.

The Bob Barker moved into the breach to allow the Steve Irwin to get out of the way of the Nisshin Maru’s massive bow.

The Bob Barker then came under attack from concussion grenades and high-powered water cannons, causing a huge cloud of steam to engulf half the ship and drift over to the Nisshin Maru, who then directed their water cannons to flood the exhaust ports of the main engine.

Co-Campaign Leader Bob Brown had ordered that the Sea Shepherd crew not retaliate with stink bombs, paintballs or propeller-fouling lines. The crew complied with those instructions and thus could take no measures to dissuade the attack of the Nisshin Maru. They could only to hold their ground to the best of their ability.

The Nisshin Maru moved to cut off the Bob Barker and instead struck the stern of the tanker Sun Laurel. They hit it four times, crushing a liferaft and damaging the davit in for their primary lifeboat. They also inflicted damage on the Sun Laurel’s superstructure and hull.

“This kind of reckless maneuvering around a fully laden tanker is unthinkable,” said Bob Barker 1st Officer Carlos Bueno, 47, of Spain. “The Nisshin Maru captain was so intent on hitting the Bob Barker that he was willing to damage the tanker and risk an oil spill to get to us. It was incredible.”

The Nisshn Maru opened the gap between the Sun Laurel and the Bob Barker, and slammed into the starboard side of the Sea Shepherd Ship while still scraping the port side of the tanker Sun Laurel.

The massive bow of the Nisshin Maru towered over the decks of the Bob Barker. From my vantage point on the other side of the Sun Laurel, I could see the Bob Barker heeling hard over to port at forty five degrees as the imposing black bow of the Nisshin Maru toppled the aft mast, destroying the radar and crushing the running lights. The monkey deck was buckled and the helicopter deck twisted as the Bob Barker’s engineers reported water pouring into the engine room.

Suddenly the Bob Barker lost all power. Captain Peter Hammaerstedt of Sweden, 28, could hear the metal ripping on the deck above the wheel-house as the aft mast was toppled and the ship began to heel over.

“He was going to roll us, the Nisshin Maru was pushing and we were helpless,” said Captain Hammarstedt. “I tried to keep my footing and I was able to issue a May Day. If he had pushed any more, his massive weight would certainly have capsized us. But she broke off and the huge anchor swung against us like a wrecking ball.”

“It was a frightening experience,” added Oona Layolle of France, 29, the 2nd Officer on the Bob Barker. “Another foot lower and the anchor would have torn into the wheelhouse. Instead it ripped through the starboard running lights crushing the glass and steel. The monkey deck looked like a bomb had hit it.”

The Nisshin Maru backed off when they heard the distress call and the Bob Barker immediately began damage control. The flow of water was halted within 15 minutes and the engineers brought power back on within a half hour, giving the ship the ability to get underway. The radar and starboard running lights were destroyed.

“It was unbelievable,” said Steve Irwin Bosun’s Mate, Sonia Hyppänen of Finland, 29. “The Nisshin Maru rolled over the Bob Barker like a tank crushing a car after they rammed their own tanker. This has been the most irresponsible seamanship that I have ever seen. They are being aggressively reckless and they are acting like there will be no consequences for their actions.”

And there probably will not be any consequences. In 2010, the Shonan Maru #2 deliberately rammed and destroyed the New Zealand-flagged trimaran Ady Gil. They then refused to cooperate with New Zealand investigators and were not penalized.

The Nissin Maru had earlier attempted to intimidate the Australian-flagged ship Sam Simon. They struck the ship on the stern and through their loudspeakers had the audacity to order the Australian ship away from Australian Territorial waters, “by order of the Government of Japan.”

“It is as if they are declaring sovereignty over our territorial waters,” said Steve Irwin Quartermaster Elissa Sursara, 25, of the Gold Coast of Queensland.

During the collision, one of the Filipino seaman on the Sun Laurel tossed a bottle to one of the Sea Shepherd crew in an inflatable small boat.

The note read: “To Research ship, Please: ‘May Day’ ‘Help’ All crew did not know to this Antarctic trip. So all crew don’t like to supply this fishing vessels. We cannot use telephone so we cannot speak to IMO. Please you as soon as possible take action. Thank you.”

They also included a note with a directive from their Captain saying that they could not telephone from their ship from January 20 to February 28th. The crew had many young, scared seamen, who did not know they were going to Antarctica, and wanted no part of the Japanese Whaling Fleet.

Some of the crew on the Bob Barker tossed 6 Sea Shepherd crew T-shirts to the Sun Laurel crew and cheered when the Filipino crew put them on and gave the Bob Barker thumbs up.

All three Sea Shepherd ships had held their positions and the illegal refueling of the Nisshin Maru was prevented.

The evening came to a close as the Sun Laurel headed north, away from the Nisshin Maru with the Sea Shepherd ship Sam Simon escorting them to safety.

The Bob Barker and the Steve Irwin continue to tail the Nisshin Maru as it heads west. All the harpoon vessels and the government security vessel Shonan Maru #2 have scattered, and the entire whaling fleet looks to be in complete disarray.

Will they try again tomorrow?

Possibly, but most likely not. By all appearances the Sun Laurel is acting like they have had enough and may be heading home.

The best news of all came with the announcement that the Institute for Cetacean Research has called a temporary halt to all whaling operations.

It may well be over for this season, and hopefully we will not have to return next season if the Japanese whalers decide to finally respect the integrity and the sanctity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

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