After weeks of confinement in the harbour at Hafnarfjordur, south of Reykjavik, reportedly due to ‘mechanical problems’, the Winter Bay, the vessel chartered by fin whaler Kristjan Loftsson to carry 1,700 tonnes of fin whale products to Japan finally set off yesterday. At the last minute, she changed her destination from Luanda (Angola) to Tema (Ghana).
Just over a year ago, Loftsson managed to ship 2,000 tonnes of fin whale aboard the Alma, taking a circuitous route around the west coast of Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope, stopping briefly off Port Louis, Mauritius, before heading on up through the Indian Ocean and South China Sea, finally arriving the port of Osaka, Japan, some seven weeks later.
Whilst these shipments rightly disgust millions of people, they are entirely legal, provided that all paperwork is in order and the meat is properly refrigerated and conforms to hygiene regulations. Iceland and Japan have both taken out reservations against the listing of fin whales under Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and therefore, they can legally trade this endangered species with each other.
Last year, the Alma had notified her intention to stop off at Durban but major public protests there caused her skipper to abruptly change course and continue onwards.
The Winter Bay is already employing some devious tactics: whilst continuing to display her destination as ‘Tema’, her course from Hafnarfjordur has been resolutely northwest and as I write, she is off the north of Iceland. It is quite possible that Loftsson is playing ‘cat and mouse’ as he will be aware that the conservation community will be tracking this cargo from Iceland. You can be sure that we will be monitoring marine traffic frequencies and we will be doing all that we can to notify authorities at likely stopping off points along the route to request them not to allow the vessel entry to their waters to refuel or take on supplies. We will also, of course, be seeking opportunities to have the vessel’s paperwork and cargo examined – ideally of course, we want to see it confiscated and shipped back to Iceland.
Update: Track of the Winter Bay as of approximately 14:30 (BST) Friday 5th June.
Update: Winter Bay in Norwegian Port of Tromso as of 05:00 (BST) Thursday 11th June