|A mile to stern a Norwegian naval vessel continues to ‘shadow’ our movements; protecting a five strong Norwegian whaling fleet from our rude interference. The Bering Sea is a viciously cold place and, even on its best day, inhospitable. A man overboard wearing the best protection available will not survive more than twenty minutes, so it is especially rewarding when asking for a team of volunteers to carry out a possible boarding action, I see each and every crew member raise their hand. For the last five days we have been helped by the weather; gale force 8, which serves to favor our objective, which is to halt the Norwegians from pelagic whaling. However, the forecast indicates rapid improvement, bringing about a sense of dejection as we observe a mile or two away the whaling fleet making ready their harpoon canon. All we can do is pray the weather continues to blast.
At midnight I join skipper on the bridge for a mug of cocoa. "Merry Christmas, David," I greet him, handing him a large steaming mug, and who in turn offers me his hand, "Merry Christmas, John."
I had been in frequent contact with the Captain of the Norwegian frigate, who himself regularly requests our position and is adamant we state our intentions. By 4 A.M. on Christmas morning the skies are clearing over the horizon, and the whistling howl seems to be drifting away. The Bering Sea cares nothing for what time of day it is; early or late. Marcus, in the radio transmission room, is tracking a herd of Minke whale approximately five miles to starboard, and reports they are making slow progress; worse news still, they have several calves within their midst. The news could not be worse. The Minke, of all the whales, is famous for stubbornly protecting its offspring. There is no question the factory ship is also tracking the herd. If the weather continues to improve the Captain will soon release the 'harpoon boats', smaller and faster, which will head toward the herd; first to target the youngest whales that are unable to outrun the powerful diesel engines. Harpooning these youngsters, though uneconomical commercially, is a sure-fire way to keep the parents close by, which then become an easy target for the ‘gunner’. It is an hour of anticipating heart-ache.
The whaling peoples of the world, whether Norwegian, Russian, Chinese, or Eskimo, are not evil. These are men and women who work incredibly hard, for very little wages, coping with long hours in vicious and dangerous conditions to earn enough money to feed and clothe their children. Whaling is not an attractive occupation, nor do these people want to rid the world of whales; that is the sole mischief of the corporations. No, these people live in small communities with no way to earn money other than to crew for whaling ships. We, from the non-whaling nations, are a threat to that earning potential; therefor a threat to their children. We are more than a nuisance to them; enough of a nuisance that whaling crews will willingly endanger our lives given the chance. Nevertheless, they are no more than mothers and fathers, sons, future wives, people who love the sea every bit as much as we do, and yet here we are, in direct and aggressive confrontation on Christmas Day!
Their incentive this day is to kill as many Minke as possible, for a good kill will result in the fleet turning for home. No-one wants to be in the Bering Sea by choice during the winter months. By 6 A.M. Marcus reports that five catcher boats have altered course and are heading away from the factory ship. I order the first boarding crew to make ready. Their task is to lay six-inch anchor chains, supported on buoys, and dragged across the bow of the factory vessel in the hope it cannot avoid this chain and it will be dragged under bow, down the hull with a terrible screech that will be heard on the decks, and into the screws, immediately disabling the ship. If we are successful there will be no point to harpoon boats continuing their course toward the whales, as the dead whales cannot be processed aboard a disabled factory vessel. It is highly dangerous and uncomfortable work, but it has also been our most successful form of direct action. To date we have had no volunteer harmed in action. Still, it is heavy on my mind. Please God, let them come back safe, so the prayer goes.
The Captain of the naval frigate immediately requests that I order the return of the inflatables to the ship. In response I demand that the harpoon boats return to the factory ship, and submit our case to the Captain that this whaling fleet’s authority to make these killings flouts the scientific quota regulations set by the IWC. (International Whaling Commission) The captain ignores our request and repeats his own. We choose to ignore his request in the same manner. We are in international waters and until we interfere with the catcher boats, the Captain is unable to use the might at his hands. On my mind is a simple moral scenario, and it is this; a human life IS greater than a whale's. If the time comes when, for safety reasons, I have to call them back, I will. Skipper brings me coffee and quite accidentally happens to mention the name of the naval Captain. Captain Sven Falk. Why should that name bug me? For almost an hour I ponder the familiarity of that name in my head, bells are ringing, and it is nothing to do with it being Christmas day. Then I remember, like a lightning bolt to the chin. Two years previously Captain Sven Falk had arrested and towed our sister ship into Oslo. He did so on the grounds that this particular ship had been interfering with the rightful actions of a Norwegian whaling fleet. It all seems to come flooding back. A month after being released we received a letter to our International Office in Amsterdam. The letter was from a young girl living in Oslo; it spoke at length about her wish for whaling to be stopped. She told us that she was twelve years old and that her father was a Naval Officer, but if he wasn't, he too would be saving whales.
Her letter concluded: ".......my father is under orders to do what he's told, but that doesn't mean he agrees with those orders. My father loves whales, too, but he says it is better that I don't tell you that, so I can't. He says if he wasn't in the navy he'd want to help protect the whales." It was signed, Ingrid Falk. For some reason I take the gamble and ask Marcus to send this signal to the frigate:
"We recall and appreciate the comments of the Captain’s daughter back in 2006. She will doubtless know that the present actions of this whaling fleet is flouting the regulations documented into law by the I.W.C. with regard to scientific whaling quotas. We have filmed evidence that this present fleet is carrying out a whaling action in violation of the legislation set by the I.W.C. and request immediate action by you." There was no immediate response from Captain Sven Falk.
Ten minutes later we listened to a radio signal between the frigate and the factory ship. It was a direct order to cease all further whaling activity in the area on orders from the Norwegian Government. The factory ship immediately re-called the catcher boats. Within the hour the fleet had turned about. It was still Christmas day and how like Christmas it suddenly felt. I asked Marcus to send a parting shot to the Captain.
"Thank you for your actions; if you're ever out of a job please apply. Merry Christmas."
The reply was immediate. "Daughters! You understand. Merry Christmas. Good luck."
No application form was ever requested or received. Maybe it was the Captain’s awareness of the law regarding pelagic whaling at that time. But I choose to think it was the thought of having to face his daughter when he got home. We turned bow to port; to loved ones. I wouldn't see with my own daughter on Christmas day, but when I did we hugged very hard. I think the Captain’s daughter would have had a special hug for her father, I hope so...I really hope so.
Note: The IWC agreed a certain number of whales could be slaughtered for ‘scientific’ purposes. This was not such an action; the quota had been met earlier this same year. Clearly this was an action to kill whales for commercial enterprise. (Pelagic Whaling)