The crippled Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru which lost a crew member overboard in an accident last week is refusing offers from Greenpeace to tow it from the Ross Sea off Antarctica.
The 8000-tonne vessel was badly damaged by a fire on Thursday and authorities are concerned large amounts of oil aboard could leak and affect the world’s largest penguin breeding rookeries.
The body of crew member Kazutaka Makita, 27, who was reported missing immediately after the fire, was recovered in Antarctic waters today.
Greenpeace ship Esperanza reached the Japanese vessel early today, but so far the Japanese had refused offers to tow the stricken ship to safety, Greenpeace chief executive Steve Shellhorn said.
“Our ship has made an offer to tow the vessel to New Zealand, but so far that offer has been refused,” Mr Shellhorn said.
“But our ships are in dialogue, and the Japanese vessel has asked us to provide some ice reports, because we have a helicopter.”
The Nisshin Maru is currently receiving support from two other Japanese whaling vessels, but forecast bad weather still threatens to cause an environmental disaster, Mr Shellhorn said.
“It has no power of its own, but there are two Japanese vessels on either side of it giving it power,” he said.
“Right now the weather conditions are quite calm, which is a good thing, but our concern is eventually the weather will turn, probably in about two days or so.
“A ship that size with no power, if it flounders, it will sink, or it could be pushed onto the ice shelf. In either case we would have a major environmental disaster in the pristine Antarctic environment.”
As yet there are no reports on the condition of the 20 crew remaining on board the Nisshin Maru, but Mr Shellhorn said there was no apparent external damage to the ship.
A spokesman for the Japanese government-affiliated Institute of Cetacean Research Glenn Inwood said today the body of Mr Makita had been found, but it wasn’t yet clear where it had been found.
“It is very sad for the crew and everyone at the ICR,” he said.