Is Japan secretly planning to build a new whaling ship?

Feature Story - 2007-12-14
All around the world, increasing numbers of people and governments are urging Japan to give up its whaling operations in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Back in Japan however, there is evidence that plans are emerging to build a brand new whaling factory ship which would extend whaling for decades to come.

Greenpeace activists hold a banner that reads 'Fake' beside the Nisshin Maru 'Research' factory ship, clearly marking the whaling operation as fake research.

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It is beginning to emerge that Japanese whaling interests want to build a new factory ship to replace the aging and fire-plagued Nisshin Maru, which is now 20 years old. The Suisan Keizai newspaper (a Fisheries Industry publication in Japan) revealed earlier this year that:

….because the Nisshin Maru is getting old and the capacity to hold whale meat on board is not enough to meet the demands from the new expanded research whaling activity, there are some voices asking for a new factory ship...The factory ship, Nisshin Maru, caught fire not only this year, but also once in the past. And in both cases, the causes of the fire were not identified... (Translated by Greenpeace)

The "some voices" calling for the new ship are likely to be the only real beneficiaries of Japan's whaling programme: a handful of bureaucrats who are abusing public money to carry on a research programme that generates no useful science and whale meat that sits unsold and unwanted in cold storage.

The Japanese Fisheries Agency (JFA) has been understandably quiet about the prospects of spending billions of yen of public money on a new whaling factory ship. Recent public opinion polls in Japan have seen the trend of declining whale consumption and the shunning of whale meat by younger Japanese people continue. The JFA and the handful of bureaucrats who benefit from whaling are no doubt hoping the plan stays under wraps until it is too late to stop it.

What Does the New Whaling Factory Ship Look Like?

If the Japanese whalers want a factory ship that can hold all the whale meat taken from the current "research" program (called JARPA II), the factory ship needs to be able to hold up to 6,000 tons of whale meat . The current Nisshin Maru has capacity to hold around 2,000 tons. This suggests that the new factory ship will be at least 2 to 3 times the size of the current one.

The current Nisshin Maru was built with the cost of 7 billion yen (US$ 63 million) 20 years ago. It's likely a new, larger ship could easily cost between 14 billion and 21 billion yen (US$125 million to US$188 million).

Who is financing the Construction?

Private financing of the new ship is unlikely as no bank or other private financial institution would loan money to whaling given the declining consumption of whale meat in Japan and the risk to their international reputation.

Therefore, it is most likely that it will be public money from Japanese government institutions that will be used to build the ship. The strongest candidate is the Overseas Fishery Cooperation Foundation (OFCF).

In March 2007, the OFCF changed their guidelines for giving loans, mentioning that they will grant loans to proposals that fit into the category of "Cooperation in international efforts to manage marine resources." The new guidelines contain a sentence that clearly suggests their intention to provide loans to whaling activities:

"Cooperation in international efforts to manage marine resources" applies to proposals that make a contribution to ….. the research and study of the management of fish species, including marine mammals…" (Translated by Greenpeace)

No surprisingly, the chairman of the OFCF is Michio Shimada, the former director general of the Japan Fisheries Agency, which oversees the whaling operations. The Japan Fisheries Agency has also given around 1.2 billion yen (US$10.5 million) in annual subsidies to OFCF.

If the OFCF is granting loans for construction of the new whaling factory ship, then Japanese tax money will be used to finance the construction.

Who is Building the Ship?

Greenpeace has conducted a survey of 23 ship building companies in Japan asking whether they would be willing to accept an offer to build the whaling factory ship. The only company among the major ship builders that did not give a definitive "NO" was Mitsubishi Heavy Industry LTD.

If Mitsubishi did take the contract to build the new whaling factory ship, their international reputation would be severely tarnished.

How Can We Stop This?

Tell the Japanese Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister of Administrative Reform that building the new whaling factory ship with tax payers' money is a bad idea.

Killing whales for fake science which nobody needs and whale meat which hardly anyone wants is an abuse of Japanese taxpayers' money. We can not simply wait until a contract is awarded and construction begins.

Send the letter below asking Japan to stop plans to build a new whaling factory ship, and start planning how to end the whaling in the Southern Oceans Whale Sanctuary.