Saturday, July 18, 2009

New rules for safe shipping may save the whales

This might be the best news for the whales this year!

Andrew Darby in Hobart
July 18, 2009

THE world's only factory whaling ship may be driven from the Antarctic by tighter regulations.

The Nisshin Maru is vital to the operations of the Japanese whaling fleet, but it will run foul of new rules imposed by the United Nations' International Maritime Organisation, an investigation by the Herald has found.

The ship will fall foul of three new measures that will apply in Antarctic waters: the heavy fuel oil it uses will be banned; its hull-strength and safety will fail new requirements; and its annual dumping of thousands of tonnes of offal at sea will be rejected in the global nature reserve.

The regulations were backed by the Antarctic Treaty System after a series of accidents involving tourism cruise ships, including the sinking of the MS Explorer.

They pose a dilemma for Japan, one of the world's largest and most law-abiding shipping nations, and threaten to make the operation of its heavily subsidised whaling fleet even more costly.

The 22-year-old Nisshin Maru weighs 8000 tonnes. It is owned by Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, a company in Tokyo that is owned by the government-funded Institute of Cetacean Research.

The converted stern trawler processes and holds whale meat collected by Japan's "scientific research" program. Its chequered history includes two disabling ship fires and the deaths of three crew in accidents.

Following the last fire in 2007, New Zealand's then conservation minister, Chris Carter, said he was concerned about the potential for the Nisshin Maru to spill 1000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil in the pristine Ross Sea.

The IMO's Marine Environmental Protection Committee met in London this week to approve a ban on the use of heavy fuel oil in the Antarctic Treaty area (below 60 degrees South) by July 2011, because of the harm it could cause. Exceptions will be made for ships involved in safety or search-and-rescue operations, the IMO said.

Japanese records show all of its Antarctic whaling is done inside the treaty area.

The IMO's Maritime Safety Committee also approved a new series of classes for ships operating in polar waters, and these are expected to be adopted at its general assembly this year.

The Nisshin Maru might meet safety changes such as the introduction of compulsory enclosed lifeboats, but it will increasingly stand out from other polar vessels for its lack of ice strength and inferior hull construction.

The ship has a single hull, not the double hull required today, and the safety group Lloyd's Register lists no ice-strengthening classification for it. Official cruise reports submitted to the International Whaling Commission by the Institute of Cetacean Research show the factory ship routinely steams through waters filled with icebergs and loose pack ice.

The IMO's Guidelines For Ships Operating In Ice-Covered Waters calls for them to use industry-best-practice rules against "operational discharges", strengthening Antarctic Treaty rules that forbid dumping waste at sea.

Japan is one of the most compliant nations with IMO regulations, said John Francis, director of the Maritime Transport Policy Centre at the Australian Maritime College in Launceston. "Even though a growing percentage of Japanese ships are not operated under their flag, they still maintain very high standards," he said!

Lets hope that this will save the whales!

Please invite your friends to become whaledefenders!

Hans Lak
One person can make a difference

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