From: Ray Lilley, Associated Press
Published February 20, 2007 12:00 AM

New Zealand Unlikely to Allow Crippled Japanese Whaler into Its Waters

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- New Zealand is unlikely to allow a crippled Japanese whaling ship to enter its waters if it has to be towed to port for repairs, Conservation Minister Chris Carter said Tuesday.

Carter said there were "serious issues" about letting the whale processing vessel Nisshin Maru, disabled by fire last Thursday just off the Antarctic coast, come to New Zealand -- a strong opponent of whaling.

"They do have whale meat on board, it is a vessel that's currently unsafe -- and filled with rather nasty and toxic chemicals," Carter told reporters.

Operators of the 8,000-ton ship, currently lashed to two other whaling ships about 175 kilometers (110 miles) from the world's largest Adelie penguin breeding rookery, said the crew hoped to start its engines Tuesday.

The ship sustained less damage than originally thought, but if the engines don't restart, the Nisshin Maru will be towed out of the area by other ships in the six-vessel fleet, Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research spokesman Glenn Inwood told New Zealand's National Radio.

Whether it was towed or moved out under its own power, he said getting the ship out of the area "as quickly as possible is on everyone's minds."

"There is no concern over any environment problems occurring down there at all," Inwood said.

Officials in New Zealand and environmentalists are concerned the ship could begin leaking some of the 1.3 million liters (343,000 gallons) of oil it is carrying, though none has yet escaped.

Japanese officials say the fire did not cause any structural damage to the ship. One crew member died.

The fire crippled Japan's efforts to hunt up to 945 whales in the Southern Ocean in a season that runs from mid-December to mid-March, because the Nisshin Maru is the only ship in the fleet that can process carcasses.

It was not known how many whales were killed before the fire.

Maritime New Zealand spokesman Steve Corbett said the threat of environmental disaster from the ship is small, but significant.

"We can't afford to take any chances with that environment," he said. "The consequences of anything happening there are so disastrous we want to remove the threat."

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said the ship should be taken out of the area quickly, and warned that Japan would spark anger round the world if its ship polluted the pristine environment.

The stricken vessel should return to Japan, and the episode should prompt Japan to reconsider its annual whale hunts in the Southern Ocean, she said.

Source: Associated Press

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