From the forest to the sea, three brave Australian men have intervened to defend the whales.
Geoffrey Tuxworth, Simon Peterffy and Glen Pendlebury came to me in Fremantle with a request for support to board the Shonan Maru #2. “We can help you get that poacher off your tail,” they told me.
That infamous ship was sitting 14 miles outside of Fremantle waiting for the Steve Irwin to depart so that it could resume tailing the Sea Shepherd crew back to the southern ocean.
The Shonan Maru #2, the same ship that two seasons before had cleaved the Ady Gil in half effectively destroying it. The same ship that had taken Pete Bethune from New Zealand prisoner when he boarded it after the destruction of his boat. The same ship whose captain and crew refused to cooperate with the Australian and New Zealand investigation into the destruction of the Ady Gil. The ship that was now lurking outside of Fremantle in defiance of a ruling by the Australian Federal court in 2008 that barred Japanese whaling ships from Australian waters.
The same ship that a spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said, “was not welcome.”
”The government has repeatedly expressed its concerns directly to the Japanese government,” she said. ”Furthermore, should the Japanese vessel port in Australia, the proper authorities would have the right to charge the master for breaching Australian law.”
The Shonan Maru#2 had tailed the Steve Irwin and the Brigitte Bardot for 1200 miles from the southern ocean to Fremantle. Its mission is to dog the Steve Irwin and to not let Sea Shepherd close in on the huge floating Japanese whale slaughterhouse – the Nisshin Maru.
“Our government does nothing as they sit out there like they own the place with an armed vessel manned by Japanese Coast Guard officers.” Said Simon Peterffy. “This is Australia and these whale killers have no right to be here and the government is gutless to not do anything about it. We would like to board it. Do we have your support?”
I told them that there was a danger that their government would not respond and they may be taken back to Japan as prisoners. “Well, if that is what it takes, then that is what it takes but someone has to do the job the government isn’t doing,” they said.
And thus it was arranged that the three would be brought out by boat to be met by two Sea Shepherd RHIBs some 16 miles off the coast near Bunbury, Western Australia. This is well within the Australian contiguous zone.
Australia’s contiguous zone is adjacent to its territorial sea, extending 24 nautical miles from its territorial sea baseline. In this zone, Australia may exercise the control necessary to prevent or punish infringements of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations. It plainly states that Australia decides who can enter and leave Australia. Japan has no authority to remove Australian citizens from this zone without permission of the Australian government.
It was within this zone that the Steve Irwin dropped off the boats and sent them 12 miles back and around and behind the Shonan Maru #2. It was a full moon but the clouds covered the shroud of the sea with an inky blackness.
Into the black of the night they disappeared as the Steve Irwin crew guided them in with sat phones to the target on the radar.
The Steve Irwin has posted on the Sea Shepherd website that the ship was suffering engine trouble and had to stop for repairs, well aware that the Japanese whalers monitor the website. When the Steve Irwin stopped in the dark of night with the lights of Bunbury on the distant horizon, the Shonan Maru came to a stop twelve miles away and drifted.
No one was under any illusion that this was going to be easy. The Shonan Maru #2 was bristling with long spikes protruding out all around from the sides of the ship. Between the spikes was razor wire. There were also armed Japanese Coast Guard officers onboard, dressed head to toe in black, including black masks over their faces looking like Ninjas from a cheap martial arts movie and peering out from behind riot shields.
The forest rescue trio studied the photos of the Shonan Maru #2 defences and said, “no problem.”
As the Steve Irwin’s bridge officers watched the Shonan Maru #2 on the radar screen, we all waited in anticipation of the news from the boats.
The phone rang. Bad news! One of the Sea Shepherd boats had an engine failure and was dead in the water. I made the decision to send the Delta boat on and to leave the other one drifting. “Complete the mission,” I said.
The Delta raced off with five miles to go and the dawn was just beginning to grey up the eastern sky.
The target on the radar screen was not moving.
Suddenly the Shonan Maru #2 began to move and move fast. From drifting to five knots to twelve knots to a full seventeen knots. We knew that we had been discovered but was it before they were able to board or after?
A few minutes later the phone rang. It was the Delta. “All three men are onboard the Shonan Maru #2.”
The boat was not moving when they approached. There was one guard on the aft deck. But before he could reach the bridge, the crew found a small hole in the razor wire. Chad Halstead piloting the Delta pushed the nose into the space between two spikes and the three men climbed through the hole in the razor wire and onto the deck just as the ship shot forward under full power.
The Forest Rescue trio breached the security of the Japanese whaling fleet’s security vessel, something they promised would never happen again after Pete Bethune had done the same in 2010.
Four hours later the Steve Irwin was heading south at full speed with the Shonan Maru #2 in full pursuit. The question is will the armed Shonan Maru #2, under the command of a Japanese Coast Guard force, physically remove three Australian citizens from the territory of Australia to return them to Japan? How will the Australian government respond to Australians being forcefully expatriated without customs and immigration clearance and without passports? Will the Shonan Maru #2take the prisoners down to Antarctica before returning to Japan thus keeping them incarcerated on a foreign vessel for three months? The answers to these questions should unfold within the next few days.
The Sea Shepherd objective is to return to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to back-up the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker in their pursuit of the Japanese whaling fleet. The Shonan Maru #2’s objective is to tail the Steve Irwin to prevent us from finding the Nisshin Maru. The objective of the three forest rescue men held prisoner on the Japanese vessel is to disrupt their illegal pursuit of the Steve Irwin in Australian waters and to enable the Steve Irwin to continue with our return to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to assist the efforts of the Bob Barker in pursuing the Japanese whaling fleet.