Japan Turns Down Greenpeace Help on Whaling Ship
TOKYO -- Japan has turned down an offer from Greenpeace to tow a whaling ship that caught fire off the Antarctic coast, recalling that activists of the conservation group had boarded the same vessel almost a decade ago.
The fire broke out the Nisshin Maru, the 8,000 tonne flagship of the Japan whaling fleet, on Thursday, sparking fears that it could spill oil or chemicals.
Japan's Fisheries Agency said in a statement that the fire had killed at least one Japanese seaman on board.
Maritime authorities said anti-whaling protesters in the Southern Ocean, which clashed with the whalers earlier in the week, were not involved.
"The fire has almost been extinguished," Hideki Moronuki, a Japanese Fisheries Agency official in Tokyo, told Reuters on Saturday. "But it will take a while before we can go into the engine room and see whether the engines are okay and the ship can sail on its own."
Greenpeace had offered on Friday to tow the stricken boat with its converted salvage ship Esperanza as the Nisshin Maru wallowed without power less than 100 nautical miles from the world's largest Adelie penguin colony.
"We would appreciate their offer, but I don't think we will accept such an offer," Moronuki said, recalling that the vessel had been boarded by Greenpeace activists in New Caledonia in 1998 as it lay in port after another fire.
He said that if the ship failed to set sail on its own, Japan would ask for help from a Japanese tanker sailing close by.
Moronuki denied news reports that the ceiling of the engine room had burned down and there was a threat of sea pollution.
"These are malevolent reports. The Nisshin Maru is not carrying chemicals at all, except for fuel, and the ceiling of the engine room was not burned down," he said.
"There has been no oil leak and there will be no oil leak."
The fire, fuelled in part by whale oil, burned in a factory area above the engine room and below the ship's bridge.
Maritime New Zealand spokesman Lindsay Sturt said on Friday that fears were easing of an oil or chemical leak spill after the crew managed to pump off excess water and correct the list to the ship.