January 8, 2010
Two days ago, the Japanese whaler Shonan Maru No. 2 rammed and severely damaged Earthrace, the World Record Holder for fastest powerboat circumnavigation. Earthrace sank this morning in the Southern Ocean after salvage efforts failed. She was currently named Ady Gil after its Hollywood mogul beneficiary. She is owned by Sea Shepards and was part of the anti whaling activism.
For details about the collision event, see the blog post below “Japan Whalers Destroy Earthrace Trimaran”. The blog argues that videos show that the Japanese vessel instigated the event and failed to obey legally established maritime rules of way.
Some reports argue that Earthrace share responsibility by not maintaining proper course. Those reports fail to recognize that it is the Japanese vessel’s responsibility to avoid creating an incidence in the first place. Once they created the incidence, the Japanese did not take effective evasive action to avoid collision. They steered a course too close to Earthrace, whether or not the intention was to ram and sink Earthrace. Any last second actions by Earthrace are irrelevant. The damage and the violation was already done.
Maritime rules state that the Japanese vessel should have either stopped, slowed down or turned to pass BEHIND Earthrace in order to manage a safe passing. The Japanese violated the rules by steering a course of passing AHEAD of, and very close to Earthrace. The Japanese vessel was required to use its horn, radio or other means to communicate her intentions. Instead, the Japanese used acoustic weapons and water cannons to block communication. And, finally, the Japanese vessel should, by any moral standard in not legally, have assisted in saving the crew of Earthrace and in salvaging her. The Japanese vessels neither responded to Mayday calls, nor provided assistance of any kind.
Sea Shepard and the Japanese trade insults about who is a fault. The news media and Internet crowds voice opinions and interpretations about the incidence, the videos and statements. These rhetoric in all but a few cases ignore the fundamentals. Nautical life consists of rules, conventions, morals and responsibilities that go with the seafaring job at all times.
The fundamental nautical principle is to maintain safety at all times. Whaling pros and cons are not part of those principles. Belittling maritime principles and laws by stating some other issue is more important is simply not acceptable. Nor is the insistence to maintain some obscure cultural right to kill fellow mammals a valid excuse to sink vessels. Those arguments boil down to risking lives to no end except flexing macho muscles.
The bottom line is that maritime law does not permit cat and mouse games as played by both the Japanese and Sea Shepard. Both sides violate not only laws but play games with human as well as mammal lives in extremely dangerous waters. However, the current tragedy was caused by the Japanese overplaying the cat part of the game. May international law prevail. May some sense of responsibility spread to the Southern Ocean and its two deranged opponents.
Earthrace, Pete and Sharyn together with the Earthrace “vortex” will be remembered for past glory. We cheered her during the race against the clock and enormous odds towards final success. Few or any of us identified with the Ady Gil, its Hollywood namesake or with Sea Shepard and its lunatic “Captain”. That part and those people will sink into obscurity.
January 6, 2010
A Japanese whaler caused severe damage to the NZ powerboat Earthrace in what appears to be a flagrant violation of age old nautical rules of way. The event was captured on video, showing the Japanese vessel ramming the much smaller Earthrace. The two vessels were on a collision course with Earthrace moving slowly on a steady course. The Japanese vessel accelerated, steering straight at, or even turning towards, Earthrace and ramming her. Earthrace (currently named Ady Gil) was severely damaged and was possibly in danger of sinking. There were no severe injuries reported so far with the exception of broken rib.
The Japanese whaling vessel (Shonan Maru No. 2) hit Earthrace’s port hull and sliced several feet off Earthrace’s bow. The damage it first appeared catastrophic but may be manageable according to the latest news. At best, Earthrace may be towed to safety and major repairs. The Southern Ocean is a bad place to be injured.
The Japanese whalers used a high pressure water cannon aimed at the Earthrace crew during the whole episode. They also used ear shattering noise equipment designed to confuse anti whaling activist crews. There are two videos: the video taken from Shonan Maru No. 2 and the video taken from the Sea Shepard vessel Bob Barker. They are easily available on the net and not included here. The videos are only part of the real story. The net is crawling with opinions about what people think they see. These comments are generally totally irrelevant.
Videos such as these are not perfect witnesses of what actually happened. Lines of perspective, wave action, distance, water spray and much else distorts actual events. Most armchair observers overestimate their marine investigative skills.
The videos show that the Japanese vessel failed to “keep her starboard (right)side clear”. This rule is illustrated in the graph. Imagine that the Japanese vessel is the one of the bottom of the graph, Earthrace being the one towards the top right.
This nautical rule states that a vessel must stay clear of vessels on her starboard side by, for instance, passing to the rear of such vessels. Any port side vessel (Earthrace) must maintain a steady course while the first takes the evasive action.
Sailors are acutely aware of this rule since it is crucial in avoiding accidents. Violating the rule is likely to cause immediate danger and a risk of massive destruction. The nautical rules are similar to those of traffic on land and in the sky. These rules are known by most people worldwide. A difference is that a supertanker weighs up to 650,000 tons compared to about 2 tons for your car. An Airbus 380 is designed to carry as many as 850 people. Thus, sailors and airmen may be more aware than the average motorist.
A famous event illustrating the danger occurred in 1956. The Swedish ocean liner Stockholm collided with its Italian counterpart Andrea Doria in dense fog and darkness off Nantucket. Each vessel misunderstood the intentions of the other regarding how to pass safely. They ended up running into each other while taking evasive action designed to do the opposite. Andrea Doria, the 29,083 ton pride of the Italian shipping industry, sank. 46 were left dead. Some 1,700 people were rescued. No legal blame was assigned, but law suits prevailed for years.
Another fundamental nautical rule states that in case of danger of collision, both vessels must take evasive action, with or without intention. From the video, the Japanese vessel appeared to take no evasive action, possibly doing the opposite. Earthrace may have gunned its engines in a last second evasive act, although too late.
Some argue Earthrace may have contributed to the outcome by gunning her engines forward to hit the Japanese. Even if true, it wouldn’t make any difference in marine practice – Shonan Maru would still be guilty of violating the rules of right ways. Moreover, the turbulence at Earthrace’s stern started only seconds before the collision. The Sea Shepard video shows Earthrace backing away from the impact after it occurred.
What is clear to anyone with seagoing experience is that both sides engage in acts of extremely poor seamanship, ignoring whatever purpose either side claims. Both sides play a game of chicken in the most dangerous seas on Earth. It’s worse than Road Rage. Whatever your views are on whale killing, or on eco-terrorism, no real sailor can endorse the events down under. Peace time sailors of different camps help each other by long tradition. Most seamen go to great effort to rescue of any sailor in trouble. They do not go about ramming each other. Nor do they throw rancid butter at each other. No real sailors use lasers to blind each other or water cannons to spool others overboard. Using acoustic toys to deafen others is a bizarre way of greeting each other on the high sea. Rarely do true sailors try to snarl each others’ propellers and rudders in the frigid waters of Antarctica.
Finally, of course, the issue of whaling is again highlighted. Killing whales is about as acceptable to the vast majority of us as is clubbing baby seals to death. Thousands of animals are killed, not to feed starving humans, but to save national face. The Japanese whale killing program is notorious and condemned by most countries.
The sad fact is that a great many countries and cultures carry out similar atrocities. Humans cause the extinction of thousands of living creatures through farming, pollution, greed, stupidity and cruelty. My mother enjoyed her fur coat until PC happened. Russians today ignore such PC, favoring fur coats, hats and probably underwear made from exotic, endangered furry species. Countless fishing banks are depleted, lifeless and destroyed by overfishing and pollution. Game hunters and poachers kill not just a few animals but whole species. African gorillas and other wildlife are practically gone. So are many kinds of tigers. Global warming causes not just the demise of polar bears but the accelerate the death of the globe. In some countries, people species/ethnic groups are made extinct by genocide by their fellow neighbors.
The Earthrace crew, including skipper Pete Bethune, was saved without major harm. Apparently, the Japanese vessel offered no assistance, nor did they suffer any obvious damage. After all, the Shonan Maru No. 2 weighs about 750+ tons compared to Earthrace’s 18 tons. Sea Shepard’s Paul Watson seemed to suggest the loss of its Ady Gil, permanent or temporary, meant little.
Those engaged in or following the three or four years of Earthrace campaigns racing around the World might differ. Earthrace meant a lot, showing many of us what a few can accomplish against great odds. At the time, Earthrace was an inspiration as she set a World Record. She was running on something called the Earthrace vortex, essentially meaning Earthrace was a people’s project. Ady Gil is not a people’s project. The campaign for ecological geofuel is no more, it seems. Ady Gil, in its absurd black stealth paint job, is just a deranged victim in a distant, deranged war. That war is fought by deranged people committing deranged acts. No whale ever engaged in acts as insane as those performed by their “researchers” and their “saviors”.
This is the battle David lost to the brute force of Goliath. Yet, it is another war the Japanese will lose, just as surely as Captain Ahab did. It’s too bad the work and idealism of Pete and Sharyn Bethune became victims in a senseless war. Earthrace is no more. Long live Earthrace. Good riddance, Pete.