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Crew flees Japanese whaling ship blaze

One missing in Antarctica's Ross Sea

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Japanese whaling ship the Nisshin Maru - currently in Antarctica's Ross Sea - has been partially evacuated following a fire, the BBC reports.

Around 120 crew members of the 8,000-tonne processing ship were moved to other vessels just before dawn today, while 30 stayed on board to fight the blaze in the ship's engine rooms. One crewman is unaccounted for.

New Zealand maritime authorities ruled out the involvement of "Sea Shepherd" anti-whaling protestors whose vessels have been harassing the Japanese fleet in an attempt to scupper its plans to hunt 850 minke whales and 10 fin whales. The activists' own fleet was "at least two or three days' sailing distance away from the whalers when the fire occurred", the BBC notes.

Sea Shepherd supremo Paul Watson told Australian TV: "We haven't had contact with the vessel for about three days now and have been heading back to port because we are short of fuel."

New Zealand conservation minister Chris Carter expressed concerns for the Nisshin Maru's crew, but added: "We are also gravely concerned about the environmental risk to Antarctica's pristine environment if the ship is sufficiently damaged to begin leaking oil."

Japan is committed to a resumption of commercial whaling, and this week joined its supporters at a three-day shindig in Tokyo in accusing anti-whaling nations within the International Whaling Commission of "refusing to enter into a good-faith debate on the issue of lifting a moratorium on commercial whaling".

The conference summary declared: "Imposing moral and ethical judgements that affect our right to use resources in spite of scientific evidence is imperialism." ®

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