A Japanese whaling ship which was crippled by a fire and laden with fuel begun moving away from Antarctica under its own power, confirmed on Sunday an official from Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research following on reports from the New Zealand press.
Environmentalists shadowing the ship offered to tow it to safety to ease fears it might spill some of its 343.000 gallons of fuel oil in the pristine waters off Antarctica's Cape Adare, home to some 250.000 breeding pairs of Adelie penguins, but the Japanese refused point blank and waited ten days before the vessel could begin to move again. "The Nisshin Maru is moving northward at the moment, away from the coast," said Glenn Inwood, a spokesman for Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research. The Japanese whalers have been closely followed over the past few days by the Esperanza, an anti-whaling ship run by Greenpeace. The Esperanza's expedition leader confirmed the Nisshin Maru was moving under its own steam. Inwood said the crew would spend the next two or three days checking and testing all systems on the Nisshin Maru ÃÂ¢€" including engines, steering and navigation. Kirla Thomas from Greenpeace and on board the Esperanza said that if the Japanese "disappear in Antarctic waters, we'll follow them and offer help. But if they resume whaling we will resume peaceful actions to stop them from hunting whales". The International Whaling Commission imposed a global ban on commercial whaling in 1986. Japan says its annual whale hunts are for scientific research, but environmental groups say they are a pretext to keep Japan's tiny whaling industry alive. Greenpeace wants the six-vessel Japanese fleet to leave the whaling grounds. The fleet is expected to hunt several hundred mink whales which usually end up in Tokyo's fish market. Inwood said the Japanese ships are not interested in the Esperanza's offer of aid. "Greenpeace won't be escorting them anywhere," he said