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(April) Fool’s errand?

Ever the cynic, I say that it’s no coincidence that lone Icelandic fin whaler, Kristjan Loftsson, has thrown his stash out the window seconds before the US knocks at Iceland’s door. How else to explain this latest – and possibly most audacious – move from a man who specialises in dishing out audacious moves like Smarties at a childrens’ party?

Here’s what we know. In a few days, and certainly before its Tuesday 1st April deadline, the US will announce what action it proposes to take regarding Iceland’s illegal fin whaling.  And in the early hours of this morning, the Alma, a 98m reefer flagged to Cyprus and chartered by a German company, Frigoship, left the harbour at Hafnafjordur, south of Reykjavik.

Local sources and media reported 2,000 tonnes of frozen fin whale meat loaded onto the Alma, amid strong rumours that the vessel plans to travel direct to Japan. 

I was initially sceptical that a vessel of that size would get very far without at least one stop-off or cargo transfer – but a quick look at Frigoship’s website reveals that the company specialises in ‘high sea transhipments’. Can this mean, then, that the whale meat can be transferred from vessel to vessel like a relay baton, and is that legal – and achievable in logistical terms (bearing in mind that 2,000 tonnes of frozen whale meat is hardly small fry to transfer?).

If it IS possible, then Loftsson could be rubbing his hands together with glee at bypassing both ports and public protests, such as those which greeted his whale meat last summer at Rotterdam and Hamburg.  As WDC reported at the time, protests persuaded the shipping companies involved, Samskip and Evergreen Line, to return the cargo to Iceland and commit not to carry whale meat again. 

Last month, Loftsson managed to transit 12 containers of fin whale meat by rail the entire breadth of Canada and out the other side by sea, sparking outrage and debate as to whether Canada might have been able to refuse the shipment under federal legislation.  Sadly, such discussions came too late to affect that particular shipment, which remains en route to Japan. 

But this one dwarfs them all. As far as I’m aware, the Alma is currently carrying the largest single shipment of whale meat from Iceland to Japan for many decades.  It almost certainly represents what is left of Loftsson’s frozen stockpile in Iceland. Did I say audacious earlier? Maybe, but pointless too, since, as we already know, there is no market for this meat in Japan and therefore, this consignment simply moves from an industrial-size freezer in Iceland to its counterpart in Japan.

And here’s a few further points to ponder:

Marine traffic websites show that the Alma’s last recorded position was at 04.48 GMT.  Most vessels automatically update their location on a regular basis. Could it be that the Alma’s tracking system has been deliberately turned off, as Japan’s whaling fleet does when it leaves Japanese waters and does not want to be tracked?

Before leaving port, the Alma was listed as carrying ‘Cargo Hazard A’, the highest category, which normally means she has highly dangerous substances on board.  Reports earlier this week suggest that the harbour at Hafnafjordur was sealed off, but was this because the Alma is also carrying hazardous materials – or to prevent onlookers getting too close to a controversial whale meat cargo?

Ironic for sure, that a vessel carrying whale meat might carry a ‘Hazard A’ rating, given the recent raft of scientific papers demonstrating high contamination levels for whale meat and subsequent government advisories in whale-eating nations, warning of serious risks to human health. A toxic cargo then, and maybe in more ways than one.

The main question now, of course, is what can be done to stop the Alma? Obviously we would like to see the whale meat returned to sender and WDC now calls upon Frigoship to do the right thing and recall this vessel and her cargo before they travel any further.  

WDC’s goal is to end whaling and with it, this obscene traffic in unwanted whale meat across the globe that benefits neither whales or the people of Iceland and Japan, but serves only to fatten the pockets of a few individuals willing to drag their nation through the international mud.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in Boston, Loftsson’s fish company, Hb Grandi, had a booth at the Boston Seafood Show  earlier this week. WDC was there, talking to as many people as possible and making explicit the links between Grandi fish and fin whaling.

Support our campaign to stop whale meat transitting EU ports!

About Vanessa Williams-Grey

Policy manager - Stop Whaling and Responsible Whale Watching