The Japanese are in the Southern Ocean as a fleet, with a large factory ship processing whales brought to them by several harpooning vessels. Greenpeace's ship Esperanza has been chasing the factory ship all the way out of the hunting grounds, whilst Sea Shepherd's vessel Steve Irwin was following a harpoon vessel.
Whilst Sea Shepherd are no strangers to robust direct action, in this instance they were acting entirely peacefully. The harpooning vessel Yushin Maru No. 2 was hunting illegally inside a designated no-whaling zone. It refused to respond to radio calls from Sea Shepherd, so two activists boarded it with a letter so the whalers could not feign ignorance.
Once aboard the two men, Australian Benjamin Potts and Briton Giles Lane, were assaulted, tied up and left outdoors in cold wet conditions. With the eyes of the world turning towards the boat, the men have since been untied and taken inside and are believed to be being treated well.
A report says that the Australian government has negotiated their release (thanks a lot, useless UK government), but a later one says the deal has been ignored. It seems that the Japanese will not release the men until Sea Shepherd agree to a temporary halt to their anti-whaling activities, whilst Sea Shepherd insist on unconditional release.
There have been a lot of inaccurate stories flying around. At 5am GMT the Sea Shepherd set things straight
Media Reports that the hostages have been released to the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin are false. Reports that the Steve Irwin will not accept calls from the Japanese vessels or authorities are false. No calls have been received. The Yushin Maru No. 2 has refused to return radio calls from the Steve Irwin.
No one from the Japanese or Australian government has contacted Sea Shepherd to organize the transfer of the hostages from the Japanese whaler back to the Steve Irwin.
Until there is credible confirmation in the News section on the Sea Shepherd site, we should regard the men as still captive. Which means anyone supporting their stance should be contacting those with the power to make things move.
Japanese Embassy in London: email@example.com, or call them on 020 7465 6500.
UK government's Foreign and Commonwealth Office: It would be good to copy them in to whatever you send to the Japanese embassy. But also email them directly and get them to pull their fingers out. Meg Munn is the Minister "responsible" for Asia and the Pacific so mark it for her attention: firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 020 7008 1500.
Giles Lane was acting peacefully to uphold international conservation law and the laws of Australia. He has been assaulted and kidnapped. The whaling ship has no right to demand conditions for his release. He is a UK citizen, so the UK government is duty bound to act in his defence. What are they doing about it?
Whilst all this must be extremely frightening for the two captives, it has at least pushed the whaling to greater prominence, with the Japanese whalers clearly lying and the Japanese government being given a hard time for their absurd 'scientific' excuses for whaling.
Also, whilst all this is going on that harpoon ship is not hunting. no whales have been killed for six days now, and it seems that none will be killed for several days to come, if not longer.
Amongst the varying news reports, the BBC one stood out for me because it runs the Japanese denial of the tying up without any comment. Yet it is an unarguable and recorded fact. Twelve hours before the BBC report was published, the Daily Telegraph posted a report including a photo of one of the men tied up whilst the whalers dealt with the other (there's also video footage clearly showing both men tied to railings, and the same news report has a photo of them tied up to a GPS mast).
Lazy journalism, or the bias due to the BBC having an embedded reporter on the Greenpeace vessel, who have a prickly relationship with Sea Shepherd? Sea Shepherd was formed by an ex-Greenpeacer who was fed up with the lack of direct action; Sea Shepherd have had a much more uncompromising and confrontational approach, harassing, obstructing and occasionally ramming whaling ships, as well as publicising and endorsing the actions of people who sink whaling vessels.
Do you think these guys are heroes? Would you like whaling to continue to be directly challenged by Sea Shepherd? There's only one way it'll happen, and that's if people donate money to them.