Life on a Sea Shepherd vessel can be one of extremes from training at the port in Melbourne to spending three months in the wilds of the Antarctic whale sanctuary trying to intercept the Japanese whaling fleet or pursuing illegal fishing off the coast of Africa.
Currently the Sea Shepherd flagship the Steve Irwin is sailing up the east coast of Australia as part of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Reef Defence. They are saying no to building the Adani Carmichael coal mine, the biggest ever Australian coal mine.
Today they arrive at Abbot Point to highlight the devastating effect that the 2.3 billion tonnes of coal and 4.7 billion tonnes of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions that Adani expects to produce over 60 years will have on both the planet and the Great Barrier Reef.
‘Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull must stand up for our Great Barrier Reef, for the 64,000 Australian jobs the reef supports, and for any chance of a liveable climate for our children. Do the right thing by our children, Prime Minister Turnbull, and revoke Adani’s approval,’ said Sea Shepherd in a press release yesterday as they anchored off the Whitsundays.
Going on board
Last week they stopped off the coast of Byron Bay, and going on board I learnt not only about their support for the Stop Adani Alliance that is calling for an end to the Adani Carmichael coal mine but also the work they do on illegal fishing.
Illegal fishing? you ask. What’s the big deal? Well quite a damn big one when you consider that up to 40 per cent of ocean fishing is done illegally, often targets endangered and protected species, and can go hand in hand with slavery, human trafficking and drug and arms running.
Set up as a direct action group, Sea Shepherd is known for targeting Japanese whaling but second officer Ashkr Audet said the last trip was very challenging.
‘We only found the factory ship once and lost it after 12 hours. The Japanese government seems to have provided them with military grade tech so that they can locate us – but that means we can’t find them,’ said Second Officer Audet.
Sea Shepherd is set up to protect life and they are actively directing their campaigning towards the reduction of illegal fishing.
Since 2016 Sea Shepherd have been working with several African governments to help patrol their waters and train their military, fisheries, legal and immigration officers on how to board and inspect the ships that are operating in their designated waters.
‘Sea Shepherd operates within the law. We act against those who are operating outside the law,’ said Second Officer Audet.
‘In places like Tanzania this is still very much direct action.’
Chief mate of the Steve Irwin, Haans Siver, who recently returned from working off the coast of Africa agreed, saying, ‘We are training them to protect their own waters.’
‘From what I saw the government officers generally want to clean things up. They can make more with tourism; it is such a beautiful place.’
Sea Shepherd currently has three ships in Africa: one in the east and two on the west coast. The work they are doing can be both dangerous and confronting.
‘The [illegal fishing] ships are in really bad condition as are the people on board,’ said Chief Mate Siver, highlighting that many people are kept in slave-like conditions for years at a time.
While Sea Shepherd is working with the governments of Tanzania, Nigeria and Liberia among others to protect their own waters and clamp down on illegal fishing, they wish that the Australian government could see the benefit of working with them as well.
‘There is nothing preventing the Australian government supporting Sea Shepherd. We would welcome the Australian government working with us,’ said Scott Wallace, campaign leader of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Reef Defence.
‘It is people power that can make a change.’
Sea Shepherd’s managing director Jeff Hansen said yesterday, ‘Given most of the air we breathe comes from our oceans, they are humanity’s primary life support; however, the alarming fact is that we are missing 40 per cent of the phytoplankton that give us oxygen, and this decline is linked to climate change from the burning of fossil fuels. So putting the Great Barrier Reef first, putting our oceans first, is actually putting people first, for we do not live on this planet with a dead ocean’.