Tuesday, January 06, 2009
A crew member of Japan's whale-hunting fleet is missing and presumed dead after he apparently fell overboard in freezing Antarctic waters south of New Zealand, officials said. Japan's coast guard requested New Zealand's help after the whaling vessel Kyoshin Maru No.2 reported that a 30-year-old Japanese national had fallen overboard, Mike Roberts of New Zealand's Rescue Co-ordination Centre said on Monday. However, authorities decided that no boats or planes could reach the remote waters several thousand kilometres south of New Zealand in time to save the sailor, who had by then been missing for at least six hours. Japanese vessels were continuing their search. "After speaking to the master of the vessel, we were able to establish the missing man was only wearing overalls when he went into the water," Roberts said. The water temperature was about zero-degrees Celsius, he said. "Maximum survival time in those conditions is an hour."
Kyoshin Maru No.2The missing sailor was identified as Hajime Shirasaki, 30, who worked as an oiler in the ship's engine room, said Shigeki Takaya, a Fisheries Agency spokesman for whaling. Whale hunts have been temporarily suspended. If confirmed, Shirasaki's death would be the second fatality in Japan's whaling fleet in two years. In 2007, a sailor died in a fire aboard a whale processing factory ship in New Zealand's Ross Sea. The six-vessel Japanese fleet plans to harvest up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales this year under International Whaling Commission rules, as long as the mammals are killed for research and not commercial purposes. Opponents say the research expeditions are simply a cover for commercial whaling, which was banned in 1986. Last month, the whaling fleet came under attack by the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd. Activists lobbed 25 bottles of rotten butter at the fleet in protest at the whale harvest but denied Japanese assertions that their boat, the Steve Irwin, rammed a Japanese ship. New Zealand authorities said there were no activist boats or any other non-whaling ships in the area on Monday.