Southern ocean police report

As Sea Shepherd predicted, when two of its boats made port in Hobart, Tasmania, over the weekend – on the heels of a just-completed and successful campaign against Japanese whalers – Australian police greeted them.

Armed with search warrants both the “Bob Barker” and “Steve Irwin” were scoured by the police with Sea Shepherd boss Paul Watson observing. No charges were made, nothing confiscated. Yet the search went on, spurred by complaints by the Japanese government that the Shepherd’s activities in the Southern Ocean were “obstructing commerce and industry.”

Japan Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara had asked New Zealand and the Netherlands, as well as Australia, to condemn the anti-whalers, since the Shepherd’s ships are registered in those countries. It claims the Shepherd’s put the lives of Japanese crewmen at risk.

Australia’s Green party leader, Sen. Bob Brown, was at the docks to welcome the Sea Shepherd activists and told the press: “The good police (of Australia) are doing the work of Tokyo…I have written to the Minister for Foreign Affairs this morning calling for an end to this charade.”

Watson said this was the third year in a row his ships have been searched when they’ve first made port. “All I can say to the Japanese who every year say ‘you guys are eco-terrorists, you’re criminals’ is ‘look, arrest me or shut up.’ It’s just getting really irritating constantly being called an eco-terrorist without actually being arrested.”

While the Japanese did quit the whaling season early, it’s no guarantee they are giving up, despite that the Shepherds’ formally announced that this past season’s “Operation No Compromise” is finished.They will most likely return to the Southern Ocean next year and in the meantime – since they took fewer than 100 whales this season, hardly the 900 they anticipated – it is possible they may turn to hunting whales closer to home, in the northwest of the Pacific Ocean.

For its part, Sea Shepherd says it will be back down south next season if necessary. “We will be prepared and we will be ready,” Watson said in a statement posted on his website. “Our objective is to defend the integrity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. We have done so since 2002, and we will continue to do so if there are any future threats to the sanctuary and the whales.”

In more Antarctic-related police news, Norwegian skipper Jarle Andhoy, whose ship the “Berserk” sank off the coast on February 20 with three crewmembers onboard while he and another man attempted a misguided and secretive effort to reach the South Pole by ATV, has been charged back home with negligence.

The charges, recommended by Norway’s Polar Institute, cite his lack of a proper permit and for failing to have a search and rescue plan filed in advance in case of the very kind of emergency that sank his 42-foot sailboat.

Since the seventh continent is governed by international treaty – a unique agreement, thus there are no police or military there – citizens are subject to the rule of law in their home country.

Andhoy argues that Antarctica should be “free and open” to everyone, though he realizes he faces jail time for ignoring the rules. He may also have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to compensate the rescue efforts staged by the government of New Zealand and two private ships (including the Sea Shepherd’s “Steve Irwin,” whose helicopter logged 21 hours in the air searching for signs of the sunken boat).

IAATO, the organization that oversees all visits to Antarctica by private vessels, has condemned Andhoy and his unannounced effort to “sneak” to the South Pole without proper permit, thus endangering the crew left behind on the “Berserk” and rescuers.

Apparently Andhoy contacted several IAATO member ships prior to last season asking for support of his vague plan to reach the South Pole, which they all refused due to the fact he had neither asked for nor received permission.

No one who knows Antarctica is surprised the “Berserk” got in trouble. I’ve organized private expeditions to Antarctica and gone through the permitting process, which in the U.S. meant I had to file lengthy applications with the EPA, State Department and National Science Foundation.

I’ve sailed to the continent with veteran round-the-world sailor Skip Novak aboard his “Pelagic Australis,” and will do so again next January. He knows the conditions in the Ross Sea, where the ship was last heard from on February 20, as well as anyone and says he would never take a sailboat there, no matter the condition or season.

In an interview with Explorer’s Web, Skip said he’d been contacted by Andhoy last year and asked about making landings on the continent. “I get many of these ‘dreamers,’ who are largely ill informed of the basics of the geography and climate … I never heard from the guy again.”
Caught in a vicious though typical Antarctic storm – 80-knot winds, -10 degrees Celsius air temperatures, 25-30 foot seas — while the “Berserk” did manage to send out a distress signal, in all likelihood it sank very quickly, weighted down by ice and capsized.

This is the first time in modern history a private yacht has sunk off the coast of Antarctica.
“Every ship, aircraft, expedition and in some country’s cases, even individuals must apply for permission to enter Antarctic Treaty territory, defined by any movement south of 60 degrees,” says Skip.

“For the skipper of Berserk to be unaware of this is not believable. What has proved to be a maverick’s misadventure causing loss of life is symptomatic of a few ‘adventurists’ who still consider Antarctica an unregulated ‘wilderness’ area.

“The reality is that Antarctica via the Antarctic Treaty system collaborating with IAATO is a highly regulated territory, and it is unacceptable for anyone to claim they had no prior knowledge of the requirements proving due diligence.”

[flickr image via ]