Whalers Hit Greenpeace Protesters with Water Cannons

SOUTHERN OCEAN, December 17, 2001 (ENS)

Greenpeace has released photos of Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean attempting to drive their whale hunt protesters away with high powered water cannons.

Today, as the activists drove their inflatable boats between a Japanese whaling boat and its factory ship Nisshin Maru to slow the transfer of a harpooned minke whale, the whalers shot them with powerful water cannons, targeting the boat drivers. The activists from the Greenpeace ship, MV Arctic Sunrise were in danger of being knocked out of the inflatables and into the icy Antarctic waters, but no one was badly hurt.

One Greenpeace crewmember, a Canadian called Mississippi Jesse, was hit in the face with spray from the water cannon as he piloted an inflatable near the Nisshin Maru.

He described the incident, "The pressure against the side of my face was intense, as a fire hose was positioned half a meter away. I tried to steer the boat with only the corner of one eye, and managed to get us next to the whale that was now about to be freed from the catcher and brought aboard the Nisshin Maru."

"They let go the line fastening the whale," he said, "and this graceful leviathan was hauled in seconds through the sea, and up the ramp to a miserable fate. It may be frustrating, but for every whale caught, it only instills more resolve in our crew to do whatever we can to stop the illegal hunt of whales in the Southern Ocean."

The Japanese hunt minke whales in the Southern Ocean each year under a self-imposed annual quota of 440 whales. While Greenpeace and other whale conservation organizations call the hunt illegal, the Japanese government maintains the minke whale hunt is done legally for research purposes under a regulation of the International Whaling

Shortly after the water cannon was used against the activists piloting inflatables, the Greenpeace helicopter located another catcher boat in the act of chasing a whale and took unique footage of a whale being hit with the harpoon, "the first time such a hit has been witnessed in more than a decade," the organization said.

“We watched the whalers chase the whale for more than 40 minutes, repeatedly firing its harpoon and missing up to five times. Finally they hit it with the sixth  harpoon,” said Phil Robinson, New Zealand helicopter pilot.

The Arctic Sunrise intercepted the whalers at 63°S, 52°E after tracking them through 11 miles of pack ice. The inflatables were recalled when the weather began to close in.

Crew members on board the inflatables were from Argentina, Japan, the Netherlands, Tunisia, Canada, Turkey, France, the UK, Australia and Greece.

Speaking from the Arctic Sunrise, after returning from the inflatable, Japanese campaigner Yuko Hirono said, “There is nothing scientific about this whaling. Once the whalers found open water they set to with a determination to catch every whale in the area. This is commercial whaling, purely for profit.”

She called on Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to stop allowing the Fisheries Agency to misrepresent commercial whaling as legitimate research.