Notes thrown by crew from the South Korean owned Panama registered tanker, Sun Laurel, used for refueling the Japanese whaling fleet, indicate at least some of the crew were taken to Antarctica without their consent or foreknowledge and have been denied means of communication with their families and the International Maritime Organisation about violations of their labour rights.
Sea Shepherd in their campaign to stop all whaling in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary this year have endeavoured to non-violently block attempts to refuel the Nisshin Maru, the Japanese whaling factory vessel, the 3 whaling harpoon boats, and the Japanese Government security vessel, the Shonan Maru. This culminated in the Nisshin Maru repeatedly ramming the Sea Shepherd ships Sam Simon, Steve Irwin and Bob Barker in attempting to come alongside the Sun Laurel in the ice laden seas. Most damage was sustained to the Bob Barker with damage to the helideck, antennas and radar, disabling engine room power for a time and causing the ship to take on water. In the process the 8,000-ton Nisshin Maru also rammed the Sun Laurel damaging safety equipment.
Paul Watson aboard the Steve Irwin observed the collisions described the damage to the Sun Lauel as "sustaining significant damage to the davit on their primary lifeboat and the crane used to launch the secondary liferafts, rendering both inoperable and useless in an emergency situation. This means that on their thirty-day voyage back to South Korea, they will have no lifesaving equipment in the event of an abandon-ship situation."
During the Nisshin Maru ramming of the Bob Barker and the Sun Laurel, one of the Filipino crew members tossed a bottle with a message to Sea Shepherd crew on the Bob Barker. The note said "To Research ship. Please: ‘May Day’ ‘Help’ All crew did not know to this Antarctic trip. So all crew don’t like to supply this fishing vessels. We cannot use telephone so we cannot speak to IMO. Please you as soon as possible catch action. Thank U.”
Enclosed was another note, an order from the Master of the Sun Laurel saying: "All Crew members. From 20th Jan to 28th Feb (only may be). No Use Telephone. by company order."
It seems the crew of the Sun Laurel are very dissatisfied with being kept in the dark about the tanker's mission, with the prohibition on all outside contact. I am sure they were not impressed with voyaging into the Antarctic pack ice in a vessel not prepared for sea ice conditions. The final straw was the reckless ramming of the Sun Laurel by the Captain of the Nisshin Maru resulting in damage to key emergency safety lifeboats, or equipment to operate them.
Some of the Bob Barker crew threw Sea Shepherd T-shirts on to the Sun Laurel, which were picked up and immediately worn by the Filipino crew members to cheers from the Sea Shepherd crew.
Although battered by being rammed by the Nisshin Maru, the Captain of the Bob Barker Peter Hammarstedt radioed the Captain of the Sun Laurel with an offer to give them a liferaft to replace the one that the Nisshin Maru had crushed. The tanker captain replied that he could make do, but appreciated the offer.
The Sun Laurel headed north a few hours later escorted by the Sam Simon. The Japanese Institute for Cetecean Research shortly asfter announced that the refueling operation had been suspended. The Nisshin Maru continues to steam east and west in the whale sanctuary flanked by the Bob Barker and Steve Irwin. Conditions for whaling are coming to a close. With the tanker sailing north away from the fleet, the Nisshin Maru may need to limit it's remaining time in Antarctic waters and refuel in Indonesia on the journey back to Japan.
Both Australia and New Zealand have made it clear whaling vessels would be unwelcome. Indeed, it is likely any whaling vessel calling into an Australian port may be impounded with a court injunction served about undertaking illegal activities inder Australian law.
Paul Watson from Sea Shepherd comments about the treatment of the Sun Laurel crew:
"The officers of the ship seem to have little regard for their safety as well, and we saw several members of the crew the nearly get hit in the head with the swinging hook and block on the crane. None of them were equipped with helmets. They were mostly a good bunch of young men caught in the middle of an issue that took them into a situation they were not prepared for. "The message from the crew is an indication that the Captain, Owners, and Manning Agents of the crew for the MT Sun Laurel are in direct violation of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC, 200). The MLC convention, established by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), is a UN body that sets out seafarers' rights to decent conditions of work. It has been designed to become a global instrument of the international regulatory regime for quality shipping, complementing the key Conventions of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). We are reporting this to the Maritime Authorities in Panama regarding the violation of the MLC Convention. This will be our 2nd report- the first one was about the oil pollution incident."