Sea Shepherd boat “Steve Irwin” heads to Somalian pirate waters

whale warsIn a not-too-surprising move last week the Sea Shepherd took its ship the “Steve Irwin” – proudly waving its skull-and-crossbones pirate flag – straight into the heart of real pirate country.

While the Shepherd’s are regarded among conservation groups as being rebels and outsiders, willing to go to nearly any lengths to protect whales, dolphins, baby seals, tuna and more, happy to obstruct and lob stink bombs onto opposing vessels … to-date they’ve not actually engaged in what we would consider today to be real piracy, i.e. boat-seizing, hostage-taking and gun-rattling.

But last week they painted the usually all-black “Steve Irwin” in green camo, with a giant “77″ on its bow (“so we looked like a Navy ship,” spokeswoman Tiffany Humphrey told me, the number representing the year – 1977 – the organization was founded), crossed the northern Indian Ocean, transited the Gulf of Aden and sailed into the Red Sea, through the waters still regarded “the most dangerous” on the planet thanks to Somali pirates.

“A few (real) pirates came and looked,” said Humphrey, but apparently the “official” look of the environmentalist’s boat gave them pause. Three separate skiffs with a half-dozen men in each approached the ship, tailed for a few miles, but kept their distance. As well as the new paint job, the ship was ringed with barbed wire, 4-foot-long steel spikes and the on-watch crew manned water cannons and “imitation” weapons.

The ship’s new look apparently confused some local navies as well. A U.S. Blackhawk helicopter buzzed the ship, thinking it to be a Dutch warship.
Humphrey reports that they’ll keep the camo look during the ship’s upcoming season in the Mediterranean Sea (dubbed “Operation Blue Rage II”), which starts on June 1 and will attempt to stop bluefin tuna catching off the coast of Libya. “It’s too hot in the Med for our usual black,” said Humphrey.

In related news, the Shepherd’s website suggests that Japanese whalers may not return to the Southern Ocean for their annual hunt (November-March) because they’ve lost funding from the government.
In large part due to the impacts – and ballooning costs – of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear leakage the government in Tokyo has announced massive, across the board budget cuts, including “child support, senior citizen support and pensions, and infrastructure repairs and maintenance.”

But the non-profit groups insists if the whalers do return to Antarctica next November, they’ll be there waiting.
“There have been a few critics who have been advising us to lay off Japan because of the recent disasters,” reports the Shepherd’s website. “The point is that Sea Shepherd interventions are not targeting the Japanese people. We are addressing unlawful activities – whale poachers in an area far from Japan, the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, where whales are supposedly protected by law.”

[Flickr image via gsz]