Anti-whaling group buys ex-Japanese research ship

Vessel built in Tokyo will be used to harass Japanese whalers hunting in Antarctic

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2012, 3:57am


Activists aiming to halt Japan's whaling fleet revealed a new weapon for their latest Antarctic campaign yesterday, a US$2 million ship they say was once owned by the government in Tokyo.

Lockhart MacLean, captain of the renamed Sam Simon, said the militant Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was able to buy the vessel after a US company, New Atlantis, purchased it when it was advertised for sale.

MacLean said the ship was originally built as a scientific observation ship and run by Japan's meteorological agency until 2010. It was ideal, he said for chasing the harpoonists through the freezing and remote waters of Antarctica, where they annually hunt for whales during the southern hemisphere summer.

Japan says the hunt does not breach an international moratorium on commercial whaling because it is done in the name of "scientific research", but the meat is later sold openly in shops and restaurants.

MacLean, speaking from Hobart in Tasmania, where the boat launched on Tuesday, said of the Sam Simon: "It's interesting that whereas we feel that Japan is not doing any significant research down in Antarctica, we actually own a real Japanese research ship. I guess it's ironic in that sense."

Sea Shepherd has said that this year's campaign against the whalers, its ninth, is its biggest ever, but until now it had kept the identity and location of the Sam Simon a secret.

MacLean said the 56-metre boat was in good condition, had a thick, strengthened hull suitable for icy conditions and could keep up with the whalers for 60 days -- about two-thirds of the expected Antarctic campaign. Sea Shepherd bought the ship after a donation from Sam Simon, the American television producer who made a fortune as an executive producer of The Simpsons, and renamed it in his honour. MacLean said Simon himself was expected to be part of the Sea Shepherd campaign this year, travelling on the flagship vessel the Steve Irwin, which is already at sea and skippered by controversial Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson.

Watson jumped bail in Germany, where he was arrested on charges stemming from a high-seas confrontation over shark finning in 2002, in July. His whereabouts were unknown until he resurfaced on the Steve Irwin last week.