Monday, 27 December 2010

Taz to Date

As you know we are very protective of our identity, so we won't be giving away too many details that could ID us.The Japanese legal system has put out Interpol alerts for various Sea Shepherd members and convicted the 2 Greenpeace guys for trying to expose fraud, so who could blame us? We are just 6 ordinary guys, what chance would we have in court against a multi-million dollar industry backed by their Government? Besides we know a lot about the whalers but they know next to nothing about us so it gives us the edge.

Our Boat

 We call her the Quokka. She may be old but she's fast enough and importantly she handles really well in rough weather. She's also really economical to run at slower speeds, which is just as well as our budget at the time was our savings! She's definitely a battler. We bought her about 3 years ago and planned to convert her into a Vet Ship to go round some of the islands in the Pacific and maybe Indian Ocean and help out the animals over there. Perhaps even help in humanitarian situations in places like Bougainville. It's taking a lot longer than expected to fit her out properly for this role. But she was ready to put to sea by the end of last year. Just after Christmas 2009 we heard one of the whaling ships would be following the Steve Irwin to within a short distance of where we were. We had a boat and a bit of time off work over the New Year so thought we might as well give it a go.

Dec/Jan 2009/10

The conditions were forecast to be pretty rough but we've all worked at sea for many years and a couple of us were in the navy, so we've all been out in similar situations. At the time no one knew about the Bob Barker so we thought the whale's only hope lay with the Steve Irwin. We thought if we could just find the Shonan Maru 2 then we could let sea shepherd know where they were and they could then get out of port and into Antarctcia without being followed.

Just before we left that first time a friend suggested our family and friends at home could start a twitter account and relay messages for us. So that was set up and started getting heaps of followers and direct messages of support. It was great to know that people were willing on a bunch of no-bodies like us! We gave Sea Shepherd our email and we had a few emails from them that were really supportive.

Our first plan was pretty simple. Head out to the EEZ where we thought the whaling security vessel would be waiting for the Steve Irwin. We figured they would be waiting somewhere in an arc from due South of Hobart to perhaps W-South-West. So we just patroled this and spiralled outwards. The weather was pretty harsh and it did get pretty bad at one point with a huge wave hitting the boat side on.

We finally had a contact on the radar loitering with no related AIS. Loitering In that location with no AIS it was a good bet it had to be a security vessel waiting for sea shepherd. We had heaps of pictures of the whaling vessels we'd sourced from  Sea Shepherd, Greenpeace and other websites and noted points that would help us positively ID the superstructure of Shonan Maru 2 and the Yushin Maru ships. The conditions weren't great and we had to get closer to try to ID the ship. Fortunately the rough conditions worked to our advantage. But using the heavy seas and moving relatively slowly we were able to work our way closer to the rear starboard of the ship. From it's silouette it was clearly one of the Yushin Maru's. We still have no idea where the Shonan Maru 2 was but Sea Shepherd said they believed the SM2 had gone to refuel and one of the Yushin's had taken the place of the security vessel.

Our fuel wasn't too good and we'd given out the positon of this vessel so we headed back. When we got back to port the Bob Barker had found the whalers and the Ady Gil had been rammed. When we saw how the whalers were getting away with sinking that Sea Shepherd boat we decided we had to do more. We had a couple of planning seasons and decided our best option was to find the Hiyo Maru (refueling vessel that also takes a lot of the processed whale meat back to Japan) as she headed back up the Western Australian coast. The Hiyo maru is slow so if we did find her we could give out her position and get a lot of other vessels out into the area before she got to Indonesian waters. We could also perhaps force her into Australian waters. CITES regulations would then hopefully prevent the shipment reaching Japan. There is a gap between Western Australia and Christmas Island/Cocos Keeling Islands that the whalers would have to sail through. It's still a big area to search but we figured we'd have more chance of finding them there. We also planned (a Plan 'B' ;)) to search for them nearer to Indonesian waters on the approaches to the Lombok Strait where the whalers would be funneled into an even smaller area.

So we had a plan. Our boat was already heading to the port we planned to sail from (under a crew of our friends), and we were to take extra time off and fly out later to meet the boat.

Then everything changed. Pete Bethune boarded the Shonan Maru 2 on his own. Now that took guts and we cracked open a few cans when we heard about that. Then we heard the whalers were taking him back to Japan and would probably pass where our boat would be. So we had a new plan: We were going after the Shonan Maru 2.

From our work we've got lots of friends over WA way and we had 2 yachts contact us offering to help form a radar picket. Now 2 extra ships isn't going to cover the gap but it will cover more than 1 boat! As we set out to look for the Shonan Maru 2 Quokka kept having trouble with her engines. One of yachts actually spotted the SM2 just a few KM off the Australian EEZ and heading for the Lombok Strait. We did our best to intercept and slow the SM2 down, at the very least let Pete know there were friendlies around. Unfortunately the combination of engine trouble and lack of endurance meant in the end we couldn't do anything to help Pete Bethune.

Through the rest of our spare time in 2010 we have been working on Quokka. Her rebuilt engines are even more economical than before! We've also been putting more thought into either starting an NGO to help the animals in the South pacific with a vet ship or to team up with another NGO. We are in some discussions so won't mention too much here. We also spent some time working out ways to scare the whalers away from going south between Oz and NZ.

Heaps of people have contacted us with ideas to help and several have been keeping watch for the whalers both in Indonesia and on ships that are working their normal routes in both the Coral and Tasman Seas. We have had amazing support, people have loaned us some really cool kit like Image Stabalized Bino's which turned out to be essential when stalking the YM3! we even had a guy from near Launceston lend us a Soviet era 'Luna L-2' Infrared Searchlight that was meant to be used on a Russian T-55 tank!! This took a lot of headscratching to work out how to mount it! We also had a generous the offer of a refueling (at cost price of fuel!!) from a fishing reefer operating north of New Caledonia. This offer of refueling was key to our decission to head north. We've also had a lot of help from some people in Japan. These people have been our eyes and ears on the ground up there. We don't want to say too much but these people deserve a big thanks from everyone.

Finding the Yushin Maru 3

We didn't find the fleet this time but we did find the Yushin Maru 3 near the Santa Cruz islands in the Solomon Islands. How we found them is probably the most ridiculous method ever! The Yushin Maru left from a different port from the rest of the whaling fleet. the people up in japan let us know the heading of the Yushin Maru and the heading of the rest of the whaling fleet a few km from the Japanese coast. We are natural gamblers and when we saw that the 2 headings intersected just north of the Solomon Islands we decided to set up a search in that area.

From this search we found the Yushin Maru 3. We were using 'sprint-and-drift' tactics where we sprint around to the projected heading of the target and then power down and drift. This makes it difficult for radar operators and those on watch to spot us, especially in sea states 4 and above. At first we thought the rest of the whaling fleet must be near by so we set up a search pattern to look for the other vessels. As our search went further out it became difficult to maintain our irregular contact with the YM 3 which was sailing through the area at 13 knots. We lost contact completely and have been unable to regain it. We did relay their last position and heading etc to Scott West at Sea Shepherd and Pete Bethune and also relayed them to a few other interested groups.

What we do know is that when we spotted the Yushin Maru 3 she was out operating on her own. We don't know what she was doing but our people in Japan had told us the YM3 was to be a spotter vessel so we can guess she was running a head of the main fleet in order to get to the whaling area first and find where the pods of whales are for the other vessels to come to kill.

Since then another ship has provided other information which we have relayed to Scott West and other interested people. So the first stage of our involvement this year has come to a close but we do have an idea that we hope will work out that could cause a bit of chaos!

Hopefully 2011 will be the year we get the Quokka in a fit state to help other animals in the Pacific. If you can help with our vet ship project then please contact us.