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ALMA-ighty fiasco: journey’s end as Alma reaches Japan, but what now?

Regular blog readers will know that I have been tracking the Alma as she sailed from Iceland, laden with her cargo of 2,000 tonnes of fin whale products, down the west coast of Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope and up through the Indian Ocean and South China Sea to Japan. After almost seven weeks at sea, she finally arrived at port in Osaka yesterday, where her cargo (or at least some of it) was unloaded. Sources suggest that the Alma may leave Osaka on Friday and head on up to Tokyo, which was always billed as her final destination.

The Alma in Osaka © Greenpeace JapanThroughout her voyage, we’ve been working behind the scenes with other NGOs to alert contacts and official agencies along her route. However, as I explained in my last blog on Alma, we’ve been hampered by several ‘unknowns’: firstly we’ve had to make educated guesses as to which route she would take; secondly, the Alma would need to put into port for long enough for us to muster the authorities to check her credentials, and thirdly, either her paperwork or the condition of her cargo would have to be suspect.  As we guessed, her crew was indeed wise to public protest and she remained well offshore for most of the voyage, taking on both fuel and supplies whilst at sea and thus, sadly, we had no hope of stopping Alma before she reached her destination.

That this whale meat is surplus to requirements within Japan is beyond doubt and, aside from the obvious travesty of killing fin whales and shipping them halfway round the world merely to add to an existing whale meat mountain, there are practical issues. How many more thousands of tonnes of whale meat can a country possibly manage to hold in frozen storage?  It is estimated that 20% of the whale meat already stockpiled in Japanese freezers is Icelandic and this latest consignment only inflates that shameful percentage.

Despite this, sources within Iceland suggest that Kristjan Loftsson may indeed be preparing to go fin whaling again this season and last night, his company, Hvalur hf,  refused to respond to questions posed by Icelandic tv and radio stations regarding exactly who is purchasing the fin whale meat – and why the Alma took such a circuitous (and therefore expensive) route round the tip of Africa rather than the usual route via the Suez Canal?  

Given the declining market for whale meat within Japan, economists as well as conservationists – and surely even Mr Loftsson himself -must be asking the question “at what point does this lunacy end?”.