I'm sitting on the Sea Shepherd's flagship vessel the "Steve Irwin." Our ship has been put under arrest in Lerwick, Shetlands. We were due to sail out 8 days ago, heading to the Faroe Islands to film a programme for Animal Planet about the slaughter of pilot whales there. Until our bond is paid - 1.4 million Euro - we remain in dock.
This will be my 4th campaign with Sea Shepherd. I recently completed the Blue Fin Tuna campaign in the Mediterranean and prior to that have done two campaigns to the Antarctic, filming the Japanese aggressive whaling season.
In December of 2009, the "Steve Irwin" sailed out of Fremantle for Antarctica. On board were 32 boat crew and 8 of us in the production crew, which included 5 cameraman. Sea Shepherd's ship the "Bob Barker" sailed from Mauritius with 7 production crew and the "Ady Gil", sailing from Hobart with 1 cameraman. We were all to meet up in Antarctica but things didn't quite go as planned.
Once we hit the economic exclusion zone, 200 km out of Fremantle, we were tailed by a Japanese security ship, the Shonan Maru. It's an 8 day sail to the Antarctic and it is a much quicker vessel then the "Steve Irwin", it's also an ex-whaling vessel! Trying to lose them by hiding behind icebergs was an impossible feat. We ended up anchoring for 2 days at Commonwealth Bay, Cape Denyson, the site of "Mawsons Hut". The Shonan Maru circled outside the bay and clearly was not leaving, their job being to radio our co-ordinates to the "Nishan Maru," Japanese factory ship.
The "Ady Gil" was only a days sail away from us, so the decision was to meet with them and have them try and deploy a prop foul, to slow the "Shonan Maru". Under cover of darkness in the Southern Ocean the sleek figure of the "Ady Gil" came into view. Pete Bethune, captain of the "Ady Gil" came onto the "Steve Irwin" and met with Captain Paul Watson. He was given his directions for the actions Captain Watson wanted him to perform, and there deep in the Southern Ocean the actions began.
The "Ady Gil", was unable to complete they're objective of prop fouling the Shonan Maru but they were able to slow them up enough for us to escape for a short time, only to be tailed by Yushin Maru No. 3, another of the Whaling vessels. The whaling fleet comprise of the "Nishan Maru" (factory ship), 2 spotter ships and 3 whaling ships "Yushin Maru's no. 1, 2 and 3", and the security ship "Shonan Maru" plus a re-fuelling ship.
Captain Watson decided to head back to Hobart, with the "Yushin Maru no. 3" tailing us, at least we were dragging one whaling vessel away from their fleet. They stopped at the economic exclusion zone awaiting our return. After 2 nights in Hobart on New Years Eve 2009 most of the Sydney to Hobart yachts had come in, under the cover of darkness, we sailed up the west coast of Tasmania and then slipped past our tail, heading back down to the Southern Ocean.
Crossing the roaring 40's, furious 50's and screaming 60's can be horrendous with regular 40 to 50-foot swells. The "Bob Barker" had been given intel of the "Nishans" co-ordinates and were heading in that direction, as was the "Ady Gil". We were still 5 days away but the mood was of excitement that we might find the factory ship so early in the whaling season. The objective being find the factory ship and stop the whaling vessels from transferring their catch. Once a whaling vessel has harpooned a whale, it is then tied up to the side of that vessel and towed to the factory ship. If the whale cannot be transferred within 6 hours the meat starts to go foul. Therefore, stopping any transfer translates to less money, meaning less profits. The whaling fleet have been given a quota of 1000 whales by the International Whaling Committee. One whale is worth $250 000.
The "Ady Gil" had spent 2 days with the "Nishin" but was running low on fuel. They started heading in our direction for us to re-fuel them above the 60 degree line and along the way stopped to see the "Bob Barker" crew. It was at this point the "Shonan Maru" rammed the "Ady Gil" cutting her in half and, subsequently, sinking her. To this day it is an amazement that nobody was killed. The "Bob Barker" retrieved the "Ady Gil" crew and all their belongings, oil and fuel before she sank. We then met in the Kergeland Islands, halfway between Australia and South Africa. After 2 nights there the "Steve Irwin" headed back to Fremantle with the 8 crew members of the "Ady Gil".
The incident drew massive media attention but Captain Watson and Sea Shepherd still had a job to do. Pete Bethune was adamant that he would board the very ship that sank him. So he joined our crew on the "Steve Irwin", to once again head back to the Antarctic. Making the crossing again we joined the "Bob Barker" which was tailing the factory ship. For the next 10 days the 2 Sea Shepherd vessels followed the factory ship, with the whaling vessels and security ships following close behind. Heading in and out of the ice, vessels crossing our bow, water cannons, prop fouling missions, etc., were amongst the tactics the production crew were there to document.
We shot on Sony Z7s, mounted Go-Pros on the ribs and helicopter had fixed cameras on the bridge, masts and around the boat recording back to decks. The Z7s gave us the ability to run around a moving ship, especially when we were engaged in actions and being pelted by water cannons. They were also expendable of which the Steve Irwin production crew killed 8 out of 10 cameras leaving us forced to use Z1s as their 3rd backup cameras. It's a harsh environment to shoot in, dealing with -10 degrees celsius or colder, swells, snow, salt water, cramped conditions and of course vegan food. (Of course I took on cheese, salami, red wine)
Pete Bethune, again under the cover of darkness on day 11, approached the Shonan Maru on a jet ski and successfully boarded it. It's the most surreal, insane action I have ever seen. I had volunteered to shoot from the back of the jet ski but, was concerned that I would'nt get the shot and above all else was not prepared to die if things went horribly wrong. Subsequently I pulled out from that mission. Pete did manage to get on board the "Shonan Maru" and hide up on the monkey deck until daybreak, when we flew over by helicopter. I was able to capture Pete walking along the bridge deck, knocking on the bridge door and handing the captain a citizen's arrest and bill for $1.5 million U.S for sinking his ship. That was the last we saw of Pete Bethume. A short time later the security ship turned around and headed back for Japan. Pete Bethume was tried in the Japanese courts and subsequently served 3 months in a Japanese jail.
As a result of "Whale Wars" season 3, the camera depatment has been nominated for an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Cinematography for Nonfictional Programming, episode 13 "To the ends of the earth". Myself, Dave Neale and Ash Dunn, both from Tasmania, along with American, South African and New Zealand camera operators, form an amazing camera crew.
Now I just wait for the news that our bond for the "Steve Irwin" will be paid and we can head to the Faroes, to make another great series for Animal Planet.