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Japanese Whaler May Be
`Slow Motion Disaster,' Greenpeace Warns

by Stuart Biggs  Bloomberg  February 21, 2007

Feb. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Greenpeace International, the environmental action group, warned that a Japanese whaler stricken by fire in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica may cause an ecological disaster if it is not towed to safety soon.

Worsening weather conditions and the threat of more icebergs could lead to an oil spill from the Nisshin Maru, the Japanese factory whaling ship which caught fire around 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the world's biggest Adelie penguin colony, the environmental group said today.

''There's a chance we could be watching a slow motion disaster unfolding here,'' Karli Thomas, a Greenpeace expedition leader told reporters via conference call from the Esperanzo, a Greenpeace ship about a mile from the Japanese whaling fleet.

The factory deck of the Nisshin Maru, which belongs to the Japanese government's whaling fleet operator Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, caught fire on Feb. 15, killing one crew member and leaving the vessel without power. The ship is lashed to two other vessels from the fleet, which may be preparing to tow it, Greenpeace told reporters in Tokyo.

Glenn Inwood, a spokesman for Tokyo-based Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, said yesterday in Wellington the damage on the Nisshin Maru wasn't as bad as initially determined and that it may be able to continue under its own power. Greenpeace's offer was ``not required or necessary,'' he said.

Help Refused

Greenpeace criticized the Japanese government for rejecting its offer on Feb. 16 to use the Esperanzo, a former Russian firefighting vessel, to tow the ship to safety, and said the whaling fleet is ill-equipped for the task.

''This is not a time for playing politics from behind a desk in Tokyo,'' Shane Rattenbury, Greenpeace International's Ocean Campaign head, said today. ''Politics and pride have been put ahead of what would be the most practical solution.''

The Nisshin Maru, along with sighting and harpooning ships, set sail in November to kill as many as 935 Minke whales and 10 Fin whales, which are listed as endangered species by the International Whaling Commission, under the government's research program. A Japanese fleet heads to the Southern Ocean at this time every year.

Japan's government says its whaling program is needed to prove that whale populations are increasing to the extent that a return to commercial whaling, banned under the terms of the International Whaling Committee treaty, is sustainable.

Whale meat consumption in Japan fell to about 30 grams (0.07 pounds) per person a year in 2004 from about 5 kilograms (11 pounds) during the 1960s, Junko Sakuma, a former Greenpeace official said in a report published by the Tokyo-based Dolphin & Whale Action Network last year.

Japan's government last week proposed an amendment to the International Whaling Commission's moratorium on commercial whaling to allow four coastal communities to hunt whales as an ''aboriginal'' right. Subsistence whaling is allowed by the IWC in Greenland and Alaska.

Source: Bloomberg

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