piratical tales

Today, for your reading pleasure I have two tales of high seas intrigue – the first to do with Whales, and the second to do with Somali pirates.

Let me explain…

Following on from yesterday’s post about sustainable fishing, I was intrigued to read about the adventures of the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin.

As you may already know, whale meat is now banned, as whales have been hunted to the edge of extinction in some parts of the world.  But despite that, the Japanese whaling fleet is still in action, working in the name of ‘scientific research’.  Yep – that justifies shooting whales with grenade tipped harpoons….

So the Steve Irwin has been making a nuisance of itself, shaddowing the fleet, and documenting their activities.  They also get in the way when they can, to stop the killing of whales, and try to blockade the harpoon boats when they try to transfer dead whales to their factory ship for processing.

Naturally the japanese whalers arent keen on this, and yesterday I read a blog post from the ship detailing an amazing battle between the sea shepherd and three whaling ships, here’s an excerpt:

“…A Fin whale was spotted at 1211 Hours. The Steve Irwin launched two fast inflatable boats to head off any attempt to harpoon the whale. The helicopter was launched to film the blocking action.

All three harpoon vessels, the Yushin Maru #1, Yushin Maru #2 and Yushin Maru #3 attacked the Steve Irwin in dangerous passes to foul the Steve Irwin’s propeller.

At 1220 the Yushin Maru #1 was a quarter mile away on the port side and heading directly towards the Steve Irwin. A 2nd harpoon vessel the Yushin Maru #2 was moving in a full speed from the Starboard side. The Yushin Maru # 3 approached rapidly from the stern.

At 1230, the Nisshin Maru aimed the Long Range Acoustical Device (LRAD) [a ‘non lethal’ weapon developed for the military] at helicopter pilot Chris Aultman of California and Animal Planet cameraman Ashley Dunn of Tasmania.

“At first it was just a loud noise,” said  Aultman, “then they turned up the volume and we could feel it in our legs and chest.”

Aultman retreated out of range of the device but was shocked they used it.

“It was extremely irresponsible for the whalers to aim that devise at the helicopter,” said Captain Paul Watson. “They were doing nothing but filming and presented absolutely no threat to the ships. They demonstrated absolutely no regard for human life.”

At this point the harpoon vessels turned on their LRAD and aimed it at the small boats and the Steve Irwin.

This sonic attack was followed by the Nisshin Maru turning into the Steve Irwin and attempting to actually ram the Sea Shepherd vessel at full speed.

Captain Paul Watson ordered the small boats to act like fighter planes in a dog fight. “You’ve got to keep those hunter killer boats off our bow. If they cripple us down here we will be helpless,” he said.

The small boats retaliated by threatening to foul the props of the harpoon vessel.

Steve Roest of the United Kingdom was injured when he became disoriented, dizzy and was knocked down cutting open his head. Ship’s doctor David Miller from Perth sutured the wound with five stitches. Captain Paul Watson received rope burns when he fired a speed line in front of the Yushin Maru #1 to force them to retreat from an attempt to cross the bow with a fouling line.

The whalers jammed the Steve Irwin’s radios and navigational instruments and kept a steady bombardment of the Sea Shepherd crew with the LRAD’s. Captain Watson spent four hours undertaking zigzag and circular maneuvers to avoid the prop fouling.

“The attacks by the three ships became so aggressive we had to fire flares and speed lines over their head to force them to back off,” said Watson.

The small boats also retaliated with rotten butter bombs. The Steve Irwin retrieved both boats and the helicopter by going in tight circles with the three harpoon vessels circling on the outside blasting the crew with LRAD’s and towing fouling lines.

“It was very worrying for us,” said Steve Irwin 1st Officer Peter Hammarstedt of Sweden. “Our helicopter was almost out of fuel and the whalers were forcing us to keep avoiding them making it difficult for the helicopter to land.”

At 1700 Hours, the harpoon boats backed off and the Steve Irwin resumed the pursuit of the Nisshin Maru. The whaling fleet is once more running before the Steve Irwin heading due South deep into the Ross Sea….”

You can keep up with the increasingly dangerous activities of the Steve Irwin at the Sea Shepherd blog.

On another note, also to do with high seas derring do, an interesting article by Johann Hari looks at the situation facing the Somali pirates who have been in the news so much recently.

What has not been mentioned in the news has been the apparent dumping of nuclear waste in the Somali waters, and the undeclared pirate fishing also in Somali waters.

According to Al Jazeera:  Nick Nuttall, a UNEP spokesman, said:  “Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste starting in the early 1990s, and continuing through the civil war there,” he said.

“European companies found it to be very cheap to get rid of the waste, costing as little as $2.50 a tonne, where waste disposal costs in Europe are something like $1000 a tonne.

“And the waste is many different kinds. There is uranium radioactive waste. There is lead, and heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. There is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes – you name it.”

The pirates we see and hear about on the news belong to a larger group of sea farers who style themselves as Somalia’s unofficial coast guard.  Clearly many of them are just gangsters on the make, but the bigger picture is an interesting context for their behaviour, and reflects less well on the west which has recently sent gun boats in to protect precious oil cargos.

The same article also gives an interesting reminder that at one time pirates established their own little democratic societies by setting up as pirates, rather than subjecting themselves to the brutal dictatorship of British sea captains.

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