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.

Tagged with →  
Share →
  • Mark Bigelow

    Why is this pantload being allowed to sound off here? This “captain” is a liar, a phony and a perpetual hazard to navigation. I thought this forum was for professional mariners. Is this gCaptain or

    • Jog To Weather

      Mark, Your are a dip stick! You don’t
      know if the Captain is a liar or not.
      Disagree if you want, but don’t be an
      a-hole. The nips are operating illegally and the Seashepherds are the
      only ones doing anything about it. And
      by the way, the “Captain” is a Captain:
      are you?

  • Capt. Geest

    Hey Editorial! How’s about you do us all a favor and jump ship?

  • Capt. Craig

    What Mark said.These scumbags should be blown out of the water.

  • SeaSick

    This Press Release is full of hypocrisy and false, misleading information. Too bad your average Joe will just take it for truth.

    Also, WTF is a monkey deck?

  • Mate Ben

    Any time I read “Captain” before Paul Watson’s name I get sick. Why would a ship carrying HFO be in the southern ocean to re-fuel a ship that burns DFM???

    • Jog To Weather

      Hey Cap.Gest & Craig, and Sea Sick,
      and Mate Ben:
      You guys are just plain ignorant louts.

  • Wingsandwaves

    Jump ship……hazard to navigation. What do you guys do, turn your back on a heavy laden ship of HFO’s that shouldn’t even be below that latitude and the sinking japs breaking the law as well. So raiding whaling nurseries is OK by you two “seamen” as is killing millions of sharks per year for their fins. Someday the the seas will be dead and polluted thanks to the likes of you two.Its not always about the profit. Its about taking care of your backyard you worka nd play in.

    • Jog To Weather

      Right on; it’s nice to read your

  • phil joyner

    Please, less of these stories on Gcaptain, these whale warriors should be left in port and are not worthy to navigate a bathtub!

  • david scarr

    being an ex seaman in the RAN think if the Japanese are breaking the law in our territorial waters then our Goverment should act, May be send a warship down there on exercise and let them decide who is right and who is wrong, not people who are not there and not Australian.

    • Jog To Weather

      David’ I wish the RAN would send a
      vessel down there and inforce the law,
      but until they do the Seasheperds will
      continue to be there.

  • Paul B

    Absent from the comments by Paul Watson (who is NOT a licensed captain, btb, and therefore hasn’t earned the honorific) and Wingsandwaves is any sort of acknowledgement that they were directly responsible for any environmental risk by violating the navigation Rules. Regardless of the setup and location, the Rules are clear. It is time to require and licenseholders on those vessels to account for themselves. There is no possible justification for preventing an oil transfer by placing all vessels in extremis.
    Tough talk aside, it would be best to hit these folks where it counts. Their wallets. This is exactly why Maritime Law exists.

    • Jog To Weather

      Hey Paul B,
      Just because YOU say P.Watson is not
      a licensed Master doesn’t make it so.
      You and the other dip sticks keep bad
      mouthing an organization which continues to hunt whales in a protected area. What do you have against whales? And why do you think
      it is ok to refuel a ship where the law
      says that should not be done? You keep
      harping on violations to the Nav. Rules of the Road, but disreguard other laws.You guys must be Republicans.

  • O K

    Paul Watson is not a Captain. Here is a quote from him: “There’s nothing wrong with being a terrorist, as long as you win. Then you write the history.”

    He thinks that it is all right to endanger human life to protect animal life. He reminds Timothy Treadwell. He is only an expert in his own mind.

  • Ben White

    I financially support Sea Shepherd and I’m a “true” licensed mariner. If one day I become millionaire, I’ll buy some brand new ships and give to them :)

    • Jog To Weather

      Right on Ben, I’m with you. Actually
      I’d like to go to work for them.

  • Henning

    Paul has been filling his bows with cement and going to town ramming things for decades, he can’t possibly call foul when people start ramming his boats.

  • Mainshipper

    I fully support Sea Shepherd and all that they do. I have been to that part of the world and believe that the Japanese have no right to be there and that it should be protected forever.

    • Jog To Weather

      I with you dude.

  • callousD

    So the professional mariners think ramming other ships is OK because those ships are against whaling ?
    How in the world does two wrongs equal right ?
    I have no use for hippie/lefty tree-huggers but isn’t it established fact that the Japanese routinely break the law ?
    Ramming other ships seems to be a clear violation of more than one law.

  • JoeOvecoat

    As a landlubber, I can assure some posters here that I, like my counterparts, will read the piece above and ‘take it with a grain of salt’. I can say when I got to the end, I thought, “Well, that’s his side of the story.”

    But, then I got to the comments, and saw all the hate, I changed my mind and decided that whatever the truth, the Sea Shepard organization is doing what our Navies should be doing, and shutting down the illegal operations of the Japanese. So much about Japan’s whaling program is a travesty, and the much of the rest is a joke, that it is good to see someone trying.

  • Chuck Lantz

    Whatever you may think of Watson’s tactics, the fact is that the Japanese are using loopholes in the whaling laws to their advantage. Since trying to change those laws hasn’t worked, and since other nations refuse to intervene, Watson and his group are taking it upon themselves to do what others are too weak, or too corrupt, to do.

    Sometimes, vigilante tactics are all that’s left to do what’s right. Or would we all rather wait until there’s nothing left to protect?

  • RC

    The Australian government will never send the Navy down to sort this mess out. Japanese whaling fleets will have the run of the place as long as they are bringing money into the country with large oil/gas projects (Inpex Ithycus) and the like. The government is so scared to offend the Japanese cash cow that the Northern Territory government tried to have the names of the Japanese military who died in the attack on Darwin placed on the Bombing of Darwin memorial. As long as the Japanese bring the cash then it will be left to conservation groups and the like to defend the sanctuary areas.

  • JXXX

    Talking about Japanese and ocean, I guess you guys should be more concerned about release of radio active water into pacific from Fukushima nuclear power plant. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is accumulating huge amount of radio active water. They showed their intention of releasing that water to Pacific after diluting it, possibly for next few decades, if not a century, many times in the past and as recently as last month. Don’t expect Japanese government would try hard to prevent that.

  • DonMuerte

    I do not understand how the Sea Shepherd can have any support. The Japanese are OBEYING THE LAW with their whaling programme. If you don’t like the law they use, then CHANGE THE LAW, don’t endanger the lives of sailors and violating court orders. I’m expected to obey laws I think are wrong and that I don’t agree with, what makes SS so special that they are exempt and get to cause havoc on fishing interests?

    There is the other side of the coin that physics dictates (regardless of the letter of the law) that the larger ship has right-of-way. (It requires less force to change the momentum of a smaller vessel). Taking example to the extreme it took Tokyo Maru tanker SEVERAL NM to stop because of mass. Refueling necessitates being close to the other ship and is under normal circumstances a dangerous enough maneuver as it is. “Blocking” is needlessly endangering the lives of seamen and creating a situation where people can get hurt. I see Nisshin Maru as the victim of careless seamanship and disregard for HUMAN life.
    Also on the subject of re-fueling, Nisshin Maru runs on NATO F-76. F-76 has a HFO component but IT IS NOT HFO. To claim F-76 is the same as HFO is to claim that a bottle of scotch is no different to a bottle of Perrier. They are after all both majority water. The point being that F-76 is a BLEND and not pure HFO and an API number much greater than that of HFO. I have plenty more to opine, but to keep the already long more brief, I digress…

    • Jog To Weather

      Yo Muerte,
      HFO is more like molasses and F-76
      sure aint anything like Perrier. Fueling in the area wherethe vessels are operating is against the law (you
      didn’t mention that). And as far as
      ramming vessels at sea is concerned I
      guess both sides are guilty now. I
      support the Sea Shepherds 100% until the IWC gets it’s act together and makes the Nips follow the letter of the law.

    • Tom

      Any liar is a menace to society. Spread the blame evenly, please.

    • Tom

      Wow, you guys are really up on the logical arguments. If the best you can do is throw names around, you should either go back to school and learn how to argue or stay off the internet.

      • Jog To Weather

        I agree Tom, and I’m guilty too.
        I should be more civil in my comments.

Sign up for the gCaptain Newsletter!

Over 30,000 people receive the gCaptain email newsletter every single day. Get the maritime and offshore industry headlines that matter sent straight to your inbox. Or LIKE us on Facebook!

We will not share your email address with anybody for any reason