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WDC critical of attempts to ship whale meat through Russian waters

WDC and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) have discovered that, in the latest desperate effort to prop up a dying industry, Hvalur hf, Iceland’s fin whaling company, has joined forces with Aquaship, a shipping company with a troubling record, to transport meat from endangered fin whales through Russian waters to Japan.

The Winter Bay, chartered by notorious Icelandic whaler Kristján Loftsson, the CEO of Hvalur hf, departed Iceland on the 4thof June carrying an estimated 1,800 tonnes of endangered fin whale products to Japan. Although initially scheduled to transit through African ports, the ship docked Thursday in Tromsø, Norway. The vessel obtained a permit on May 25, 2015, from Russia’s Northern Sea Route Authority for transit through the Arctic, according to a document obtained by AWI.

Use of the Winter Bay demonstrates the difficulties Loftsson’s company has encountered using conventional shipping companies to move whale products to Japan. There is concern that the Winter Bay, a single-hulled ship rated as an Ice Class 1 vessel (having only basic ice strengthening), and which reported gear problems before leaving Iceland, could present a risk to sensitive Arctic ecosystems and fauna. The Northern Sea Route is closed until July due to thick ice, and ships transiting before September are usually escorted by an icebreaker1 .

In addition, the vessel’s management company, Aquaship, has a history of labour and safety code problems. On two recent occasions, Aquaship managed vessels have been detained in United Kingdom ports for health and safety violations.

“Transporting meat from endangered fin whales on a single-hulled ship through the Northeast Passage shipping route is like playing with explosives,” claims Chris Butler-Stroud, chief executive officer at WDC. “There is a real risk of disaster resulting in a disabled ship and the possible fouling of Arctic waters with fuel and other contaminants where containment of a spill would be difficult, causing adverse impacts to Arctic species and their habitat.”

The Winter Bay’s stopover in Norway raises concerns that Norwegian whale meat might be added to the vessel’s Japan-bound cargo. Loftsson holds shares in the Norwegian whaling company Lofothval, which has already killed a number of minke whales this season. Just last week, the Reinebuen, a vessel linked to Lofothval, hunted a whale in front of a boat carrying Dutch and German tourists.

If the shipment makes it as far as Japan, its final destination, it is likely to be relegated to long-term storage. There is a declining market for whale meat in Japan and much of the meat sits frozen in vast stockpiles.

“Iceland, Norway, and Japan continue to collectively ignore the will of the international community that commercial whale and trade in whale products must end,” said Susan Millward, executive director of AWI. “Since those three countries have no apparent interest in joining the rest of the world in protecting, not persecuting, whales, the international community, led by the United States and United Kingdom, must act to compel these renegade states to stop whaling and trading in whale products.”

Winter Bay