After final preparations in Australia, two Sea Shepherd vessels are now on their way to the Southern Ocean to intercept the Japanese whaling fleet in a bid stop them killing Minke whales.
The marine conservation organization's flagship vessel the Steve Irwin departed Saturday from Melbourne, followed by its fast new patrol vessel the Ocean Warrior, which departed from Hobart, Tasmania, on Sunday.
The Japanese whaling fleet left Japan on November 18, and reportedly has set itself a quota for 333 Minke whales.
Ocean Warror’s captain Adam Meyerson says the vessel is fast enough to outrun any whaling ship and is equipped with a powerful water cannon. Sea Shepherd predicts the Ocean Warrior will be a game-changer for their 11th whale defense campaign, Operation Nemesis.
The Japanese typically hunt whales from December until March, so Sea Shepherd's vessels have been equipped to endure four months of harsh conditions at sea to protect the whales of the Southern Ocean.
The two Sea Shepherd vessels are carrying a total of 50 crew members from eight different countries: Australia, Germany, France, UK, Austria, Spain, Canada and the United States.
Japan’s “scientific research” program used to justify the killing of whales was rejected by the International Court of Justice in a 2014 decision.
The court ruled by 12 votes to four against Japan, and ordered it to revoke scientific permits issued under the program. At the time, the Japanese government told United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that the court's jurisdiction “does not apply to ... any dispute arising out of, concerning, or relating to research on, or conservation, management or exploitation of, living resources of the sea.”
In 2015, the Australian Federal Court fined the Japanese whalers $AU1 million for hunting within an Australian whale sanctuary, however the fine remains unpaid.
"Sea Shepherd shouldn’t have to be taking on the whalers again this summer," said Australian Senator Peter Whish-Wilson at a press conference in the port of Hobart Saturday morning. "Australia won the International Court of Justice case against Japan, but unfortunately the government put trade deals ahead of whales and removed all diplomatic pressure. The Japanese whaling fleet might be able to escape and outrun the international courts but it won’t escape Sea Shepherd."
This is the second time the Japanese whaling fleet has returned to the Southern Ocean since a 2014 International Court of Justice ruling.
Operation Nemesis is Sea Shepherd’s 11th Antarctic whale defense campaign. In Sea Shepherd’s past ten campaigns over 6,000 whales have been spared the whaler’s grenade-tipped harpoons.