The Fisheries Agency is poised to introduce a new whaling factory ship to replace Nisshin Maru (8,145 tons), which leads research whaling missions in the Southern Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. The agency will start drafting a basic plan in fiscal 2018. Introducing a new factory ship would clearly indicate Japan’s stance of continuing whaling. Western countries, Australia, and other anti-whaling nations are likely to strongly oppose this move.
Nisshin Maru is obsolete
Nisshin Maru was a trawler completed in 1987. It was remodeled and has been used as a whaling factory ship since 1991. It is 130 m in length, and whales caught by small research vessels can be hauled up on the deck of Nisshin Maru and processed right there. Freezers located under the deck can hold up to 1,200 tons of whale meat.
The main parts of the hull and engine are unchanged from 30 years ago. Fires broke out on the ship in 1998 and 2007. After each fire the interior was refurbished and the ship continued operation. Whaling sources revealed, though, that “there are concerns that the ship will not be able to move if the engine were to break down, because there are no replacement parts.”
Countering Sea Shepherd
Introducing a new factory ship is a way to counter Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SS), which has repeatedly engaged in activities to obstruct whaling in the Southern Ocean.
The Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) says Nisshin Maru had a near collision with another ship and was bombarded with laser beams in February 2011. Moreover, anti-whaling boats rammed Nisshin Maru in February 2013, according to ICR.
In recent years, SS has introduced high-speed boats capable of agile movement. Ocean Warrior, which SS dispatched to the Southern Ocean in fiscal 2016, has a top speed of over 40 km per hour, almost twice that of Nisshin Maru.
SS has announced it will not interfere with Japan’s whaling activities this year, but Takeharu Bando, the leader of the research delegation aboard the Nisshin Maru, says, “We need a strong and fast ship that can hold its own in the event of obstruction.
According to sources, there was a plan around 2005 to build a new factory ship. The design plans were completed, and a shipbuilder was chosen, but the shipbuilding company withdrew from the project after it received protests from environmental protection groups that had learned of the project. The project then came to a standstill.
Behind the decision to build a new factory ship was the fact that a supra-partisan group of Diet members drafted a new law designating research whaling as a “government responsibility” in June 2017 and requested the government take countermeasures against obstruction.
The Fisheries Agency had about 100 million yen included in the fiscal 2018 draft budget to study the acquisition of a new ship. Regarding the new ship, there is a proposal to build a new ship and a proposal to purchase a large fishing vessel from overseas and remodel it into a whaling ship.
There may be opposition from many Western countries, however.
Secretary General Nanami Kurasawa of the Iruka & Kujira (Dolphin & Whale) Action Network, a civic group opposed to large-scale whaling, conjectures: “Many countries distrust Japan because it continues to kill whales in the name of research using large subsidies. If Japan acquires a new factory ship, it is likely to provoke a great deal of opposition.” With reference to the plan to obtain a new ship, a top official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says: “There is no question but that it will provoke a strong reaction among anti-whaling countries.” (Slightly abridged)