International environmental organisation Sea Shepherd could lose one of its most important weapons in its battle against whaling. The organisation’s flag ship sails under the Dutch flag, but a Dutch cabinet member is fed up with the situation. Deputy Transport Minister Tineke Huizinga says Sea Shepherd is endangering relations with Japan. If she gets her way, the environmental organisation will lose its Dutch flag.
See (Japanese) footage below:
Antarctica, 6 February 2009. The Japanese harpoon ship Ushin Maru 3 has just shot dead a minke whale and wants to get it to the factory ship Nishin Maru as quickly as possible. The whaler is being pursued by Sea Shepherd' protest ship Steve Irwin. The two ships collide. The crews throw missiles at each other.
According to Geert Vons, general director of Sea Shepherd Netherlands, the organisation takes action because no-one else does:
"I don't think Sea Shepherd uses violence. But what I would like to say is that under international laws and regulations many animals are protected, but in reality they are not. And this whaling issue is a very strong example. Japan is whaling within the borders of an internationally recognised sanctuary, established by the International Whaling Commission in 1994. Sea Shepherd tries to prevent the Japanese vessels from killing whales illegally."
Sea Shepherd’s protests against Canadian seal hunters, poachers and Japanese whalers are confrontational. In Canada, a second protest ship is under arrest for hampering the annual seal hunt.
In The Hague, the deputy transport minister has had enough of the Sea Shepherd’s flag ship sailing under the respectable Dutch flag. She wants the Ship's Certificates Registry Act changed. If a ship, sailing under a Dutch flag damages another ship or endangers diplomatic relations, it should no longer be allowed to sail under that flag.
According to Professor Fred Soons, maritime law expert, the Netherlands has no alternative:
"Japan is supposed to exercise effective control over their ships and to prevent them from engaging in unlawful activities. Just as the Netherlands has to exercise its effective control as the state under whose flag the Sea Shepherd’s ships sail. That is an obligation of international law."
Japan says it hunts whales for scientific research. Around 1000 minke whales, blue whales and sperm whales are killed every year. Sea Shephard opposes whaling and refers to its rights under the UN World Charter for Nature which allows NGOs to take action to protect animal species.
Meanwhile Sea Shephard is about to embark on a new campaign against whaling. It is important to be cautious, thinks the organisation. But: "We are going ahead. That is for certain," says Mr Vons. It is still not clear what the Japanese whalers plan to do:
"Maybe they’ll decide not to go hunting this time. You never know. But for sure Sea Shepherd will never stop until the illegal whaling has stopped."
The campaign against whaling in Antarctic waters starts in December.
See Sea Shepherd footage below: