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Last Updated: Monday, 28 January 2008, 20:45 GMT
Diary: Jonah and the whale-chasers

The BBC's Jonah Fisher has been reporting from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza as it tracked the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean. During the six-week voyage, now ending because of shortages of fuel, he has kept this diary and filed reports for the Ten O'Clock News.

Click here to read earlier entries in Jonah's diary.

MONDAY 28 JANUARY: SADNESS AND EXCITEMENT

Thoughts on board are now turning towards our imminent arrival in Australia.

The bow of the Esperanza

The sadness that many of the campaigners on the Esperanza felt leaving the Nisshin Maru has now been replaced by excitement about returning to land.

It has been a long trip. Many of the activists have been at sea for over three months.

The starting point for them was South Korea - where they headed east to Shimonoseki in Japan in an early failed bid to intercept the whaling fleet.

Travelling along the coast of Antarctica there have been lots of epic waves, stunning icebergs and cute penguins.

But in terms of the real nitty gritty of saving whales it all came down to two weeks chasing the factory ship the Nisshin Maru through the Southern Ocean.

During that time there were just two days when Greenpeace deployed their famous inflatable boats amongst the Japanese fleet.

By keeping the Nisshin Maru on the move - the rest of the fleet has been unable to kill whales for over two weeks

The first was simply a photo shoot to take a closer look and hold a banner. The second, a week ago was more dramatic, when an inflatable tried to prevent the Nisshin Maru refuelling.

In the event, the short delay was more symbolic than practical. The Nisshin Maru docked with the tanker and spent the rest of the day transferring fuel and whale meat between the two ships.

Despite the lack of action, Greenpeace say this is their most successful Southern Ocean expedition yet.

By keeping the Nisshin Maru on the move, the rest of the fleet has been unable to kill whales for over two weeks.

The captain's deck of the Esperanza
The Esperanza is needed at other campaigns around the world

Assuming that the Japanese do not extend their season beyond April or work double shifts then it is likely that they will end up catching less than their full quota and tens if not hundreds of whales will have been saved.

But there is still a sense of anti-climax.

The activists spent most of this trip preparing mentally and physically to put themselves between the harpoon and the whale.

They tuned up the water sprays so they could obscure the harpoonists' vision and practised loading the inflatables at high speed.

A change of tactics from the Japanese meant it simply was not needed.

Two years ago the whaling fleet continued work when the protestors showed up.

Gory images of whales being harpooned were sent around the world. This year the Japanese seemed determined to avoid a repeat at all costs.

Next year expect them to come back better prepared for what seems to have become an endurance test

Safe in the knowledge that they possess greater resources the whalers seemed happy to exhaust the campaigners fuel by leading them in circles round the Southern Ocean.

Though the activists have had the satisfaction of preventing whales being killed, the Japanese have managed to avoid the wider attention and debate which graphic images of whaling might trigger.

While Greenpeace did the donkey work of following the Nisshin Maru for over 5,000 miles it was rival conservation group Sea Shepherd which made the greatest splash.

By putting two activists on board a whaling ship and refusing to take them back, they managed to both capture international attention for a couple of days and nearly trigger a diplomatic incident between Japan and Australia.

It was only the intervention of the Australian surveillance vessel the Oceanic Viking which brought the activists' tea-sipping on board the Japanese ship to an end.

An iceberg on the horizon
There were few opportunities to take pictures of whaling

The Oceanic Viking is still with the fleet and it will be interesting to see whether whaling resumes with its cameras watching.

Both Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace are now heading towards port.

The Esperanza has a date in dry dock for repairs and then it must move on to other campaigns around the world.

Sea Shepherd say they want to return to Antarctica soon but only if they can find the money.

Both organisations are aware that the nature of anti-whaling campaigning appears to have changed.

Next year expect them to come back better prepared for what seems to have become an endurance test.

SATURDAY 26 JANUARY: HOPE FADES ON THE ESPERANZA

For the first time in more than two weeks there are no other ships on the horizon.

With only enough fuel left to make it back to port in Australia, at two o'clock this afternoon (0500GMT) Greenpeace ended its pursuit of the Japanese factory ship, the Nisshin Maru.

The ritual of such moments on the Esperanza is now familiar to all on board.

First everyone gathers on the ship's bridge. Then Greenpeace expedition leader Karli Thomas hails the Nisshin Maru's captain over the ship radio.

Greenpeace expedition leader Karli Thomas
The Greenpeace expedition leader tries to contact the Japanese whaler

"Nisshin Maru, Nisshin Maru, this is the Esperanza."

He ignores her. She calls him again.

Silence, perhaps a static crackle.

Undaunted, a prepared statement is then read out.

This time the whaling fleet is informed that Greenpeace is leaving.

"Why, if there is nothing wrong with your scientific programme, do you have to run away from legitimate scrutiny and peaceful protest?" Ms Thomas demands.

Unsurprisingly there is still no reply, so the crew of the Esperanza rather sadly wander out on deck to watch the Japanese ship, the focal point for the whole trip, disappear from view.

The unspectacular epic

The pursuit may not have been spectacular but it has turned into something of an epic.

Greenpeace first came across the Japanese fleet near Prydz Bay, roughly equidistant between South Africa and Australia on the Antarctic coast.

For the first few days the Nisshin Maru headed north and then north-west - out of the whaling grounds.

The pursuit covered about 5,000 miles. If this rather tangled line was straightened out it would reach from London to Bangladesh

Then it abruptly turned around and headed back south and east where it was rejoined by the rest of the fleet and the tanker ship, the Oriental Bluebird.

After a day spent refuelling, the Nisshin Maru headed west yet again.

Overall the pursuit covered about 5,000 miles. If this rather tangled line was straightened out it would reach from London to Bangladesh.

But while Greenpeace may have pulled out of the chase, the Japanese fleet hasn't been left on its own.

The Oceanic Viking, the Australian surveillance ship, is following and the Sea Shepherd vessel, the Steve Irwin, claims to be not far away.

Having suspended whaling for the last two weeks the question now is whether Japan is willing for Australian officials to film and photograph them at work, or whether they insist on carrying out their research in private.

TUESDAY 22 JANUARY: CROWDED AT SEA

Anti-whaling activists try to prevent whaling vessels coming alongside one another
The vexed game of cat and mouse continues

The Southern Ocean can be a lonely place. After the first few weeks of travelling on board the Esperanza it began to feel as if it was the only ship afloat.

The radar blips were always either storms or icebergs, and the only main sound was the noise of waves crashing into the hull.

Having found company in the form of the whaling fleet, the Esperanza has spent the past 10 days with its eyes fixated firmly on the backside of the Japanese factory ship, the Nisshin Maru.

It's been led on a rambling route across the Southern Ocean through all points of the compass and back again.

Looking out through my porthole tonight I almost have to draw the curtain before getting changed. Most of the Japanese whaling fleet is just a few hundred metres away. The Nisshin Maru is tied alongside the tanker ship, the Oriental Bluebird.

A short distance from that are two of the smaller catcher ships.

To the west, radiating through the grey, is the bright yellow and blue of the Australian customs ship, the Oceanic Viking.

It was originally sent to document Japan's whaling operations but by the time it arrived in Antarctic waters, campaigners had already managed to disrupt the hunt. Last week it helped return two Sea Shepherd activists to their ship after they boarded a Japanese catcher.

Naughty children

With the benefit of hindsight, Tuesday can be clearly divided into two halves: pre- and post-Oceanic Viking.

During the morning I went out in an inflatable to watch as the activists tried to prevent the Nisshin Maru and the Oriental Bluebird coming alongside one another.

The Australian customs vessel, the Oceanic Viking
The Australian customs ship, Oceanic Viking, is also in the chase

The Greenpeace boat managed to hold a position in between the two ships for a few minutes - before, under pressure from water hoses and blaring horns, it was edged out and the two ships came together.

After lunch the inflatables returned to take some pictures of themselves holding banners in front of the two ships.

This seemed to upset the Japanese catcher boats and they raced after the inflatables in ever tighter circles. For a mad half-hour, everyone seemed to lose their senses.

Then a shape appeared on the horizon and - like naughty children caught messing around - everyone started behaving themselves. The Japanese captain issued a warning to the Esperanza to keep its distance and the inflatables came to a halt.

No chat

When it arrived the Oceanic Viking deployed its own small boats into the water - and without a word to the passing activists proceeded towards the Japanese fleet.

In fact no-one seems keen to want to talk to the Greenpeace ship. A long policy statement read out to the Oceanic Viking over the radio was met with a rather tired "can you put it in an email". And apart from warnings, there's never been much chat between the activists and the whalers.

At the moment there appears little prospect of the hunt resuming. The assumption on the Esperanza is that Japan has decided that wants to do its whaling in private.

That now means waiting until both the activists and the Australians have run out of fuel.

FRIDAY 18 JANUARY: AT CLOSE QUARTERS

When I curl up in my bunk bed tonight a woman's voice will be bouncing around my head.

Nisshin Maru
The campaigners decided to take a closer look at the Nisshin Maru
"Warning, warning this is the Nisshin Maru captain." she will tell me robotically. "Stop your obstructive actions immediately. Please away from our ship or we will have to hose you to fend you off."

For two hours today I was forced to listen to this woman on a loop as it was played at what must have been a deafening volume from the Japanese factory ship. When I returned at lunchtime to my little workspace I was forced to hear her all over again as she graced every second of the footage I'd just shot.

Having been unable to escape her droning tones I've unfortunately had little choice but to reflect on her identity. I can say definitively that she sounds Japanese but I'm sure she's telling me a lie when she claims to be the captain of the Nisshin Maru (all the crew are male).

It was at 1030 this morning that I leapt into an inflatable to travel over to where the Nisshin Maru, the ship Greenpeace has been following for the last week had stopped. Alongside was the catcher vessel the Yushin Maru No. 2 (where the Sea Shepherd men had been held and then released from).

It looked liked the two were refuelling so Greenpeace decided to give their inflatables a run out and to go get a closer look at the factory ship they'd been diligently following. There were no plans to try anything spectacular, just a chance to look a few of the Japanese in the eye and try and reinforce the message that Greenpeace has very different tactics from Sea Shepherd.

Nisshin Maru water hose
When the campaigners got close they were sprayed with icy water
Having had the two Sea Shepherd men catch them by surprise on Tuesday the whalers were taking no chances. Powerful water cannons blasting icy sea water had been set up on both ship's and whenever either of the Greenpeace inflatables came within range the campaigners had a chance to find out just how cold the Southern Ocean is. I was certainly very grateful for the dry suit I was wearing.

Despite the odd drenching there was no hostility. The campaigners took pictures of themselves a short distance from the Nisshin Maru holding a banner which said "Fake" in Japanese. Greenpeace believe that the only way to halt the whaling fleet for good is to influence public opinion back in Japan. The use of the word "Fake" I'm told links in with other issues in Japan which the Tokyo government has been criticised over.

Relations between Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace aren't getting any better. Angry at having lost the fleet while they picked up their men from the Australian customs vessel the Oceanic Viking one of the Sea Shepherd crew called the Esperanza this afternoon.

He asked to be given the new co-ordinates for the fleet and said if Greenpeace didn't comply then Sea Shepherd would hold it responsible for every whale that died. Predictably Karli Thomas the expedition leader said no - Greenpeace have a longstanding policy of not co-operating with Sea Shepherd because they consider its tactics too aggressive.

Fifteen minutes later Sea Shepherd's latest press release arrived in my inbox entitled "Sea Shepherd Struggles on in the Southern Ocean."

"By withholding co-operation they (Greenpeace) are contributing to the death of the whales," Paul Watson the captain of the Steve Irwin says. "If any whales are killed within the next week I will hold Greenpeace responsible for their deaths because they have the power to co-operate with Sea Shepherd to prevent the killing from continuing."

Having been given the co-ordinates once before (apparently a leak from within Greenpeace), it appears that Sea Shepherd are in need of another favour.

TUESDAY 15 JANUARY: DRAMA FORCES CHANGE OF COURSE

When my head hit the pillow at 0800 this morning the Esperanza was heading north into the vast openness of the Indian Ocean. An empty tank and early finish to Greenpeace's protest looked on the cards.

Six hours later when I stumbled out of my cabin everything had changed.

In this photo released by Sea Shepherd, two activists from the group are detained on the Yushin Maru No. 2, a Japanese  whaling vessel, on Tuesday
Greenpeace has tried to keep a distance from these protesters

Two protesters from rival conservation group Sea Shepherd had managed to board a Japanese whaler and the Esperanza was now heading south back to Antarctica.

Dreams of a dinner in Durban were quickly dashed.

The incident involving Sea Shepherd and the catcher ship - the Yushin Maru No 2 - took place several hundred kilometres from where we are located.

Two campaigners, a Briton and an Australian, had jumped from an inflatable on to the whaler to deliver a letter protesting against the hunt. The men were detained - and pictures released by Sea Shepherd show the men tied to the side of the ship.

Greenpeace now find themselves in a slightly awkward situation

Evidently word quickly got through to the Nisshin Maru - the mother ship that Greenpeace is chasing - and having led the Esperanza on a three-day procession north, it abruptly turned round and started heading south again. None the wiser, the captain of the Greenpeace ship gave the order to follow suit.

Greenpeace now find themselves in a slightly awkward situation. Having continually tried to stress the difference between themselves and Sea Shepherd - they are now being led back towards them.

Any attempt at a protest with Sea Shepherd in the area will look like the co-operation which Greenpeace has been so keen to avoid.

And if you're wondering why I went to bed at 0800 - working for the evening Ten O'Clock News in the UK from the other side of the world has turned my body clock upside down.

Luckily it's still possible to shoot material of the sea and the ship, as in the Southern Ocean it's light most of the night anyway.

MONDAY 14 JANUARY: THE CHASE WEARS ON

The mood of celebration that followed the discovery of the fleet on Friday night has been replaced by grim realism.

Greenpeace initially imagined that they might chase the whalers for a short period before they resumed work along the Antarctic ice shelf.

Radar on board the Greenpeace ship
The question now is not finding the whaling fleet, but keeping up

In fact, three days into a chase that is now heading towards South Africa, there's no sign of the Nisshin Maru - the biggest ship in the whaling fleet - returning south.

While heralding it a success that the whaling season has been hindered and perhaps suspended, Greenpeace are painfully aware that they can't sustain the pursuit for much longer.

The Japanese whaling fleet have the luxury of a large container ship, the Oriental Bluebird, making shuttles to Antarctica. It brings fuel from Japan and takes the whale meat back with it.

Keeping a 73-metre (240-foot) boat like the Esperanza travelling at top speed day and night consumes vast amounts of fuel. With no refuelling vessel on the way Greenpeace know that at some point they will have to leave the Nisshin Maru and return to harbour.

If that comes to pass, some whales will have almost certainly been saved by this enforced diversion.

But crucially for the wider debate and public opinion around the world there will have been no pictures of whales being harpooned or protesters on global television screens.

Unless, that is, Greenpeace's rivals from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society manage to track down some of the whaling boats.

Despite Greenpeace having promised that there would be no co-operation with the more radical conservationists, it appears that someone within Greenpeace has in fact been helping them by leaking the location of the whaling fleet.

View from the Greenpeace ship on which the BBC's Jonah Fisher is travelling

I had been sceptical of the claims of Sea Shepherd's head, Paul Watson, that he knew where the fleet was and was also chasing it. But he emailed me this evening pinpointing exactly where we had been a few hours earlier.

Despite the open hostility between the organisations it appears that Mr Watson - a former member of Greenpeace - still has a few well-connected friends either on board the Esperanza or further afield.

Sea Shepherd say they are no longer pursuing the Nisshin Maru but are returning to Antarctic waters to search for the catcher ships which actually harpoon the whales.

If Greenpeace end up running their tanks dry following the Nisshin Maru, their campaign in the Southern Ocean may be coming to an end.

SATURDAY 12 JANUARY: WHALERS LOCATED

It was 0230 when the Yushin Maru, one of the Japanese whaling fleet's three catcher boats, came into view. Lights gleaming through the white snowy haze the words RESEARCH could be clearly made out on its side.

As the Yushin Maru passed by Frank Kamp, the Esperanza's Dutch captain, emerged from the bridge with a broad smile on his face.
View of Yushin Maru from Esperanza
The ship Yushin Maru was a sign the Japanese whaler was near

"I just called them over the VHF radio," he said. "I couldn't resist saying konichiwa (hello in Japanese)."

There was no reply.

This game of marine chess begun in earnest two days ago. As the Esperanza was moving along the Antarctic coast it came across one of Japan's two spotter boats. These ships are purely for observation and don't carry harpoons - but for the Greenpeace campaigners it was a nightmare scenario.

As they are not needed for killing or processing the whales the spotters could potentially have stayed with the Esperanza for days - informing the main fleet of its location so that they could steer clear and carry on whaling.

But after some emergency manoeuvring and with the help of a snowstorm the Esperanza escaped from the spotter - and after circling for a day found itself in the midst of the rest of the fleet.

It took a trained eye to spot the whalers on the Esperanza's radar. When ships move against the prevailing current they leave a blue trail - which signifies that they are definitely not drifting icebergs.

In the early hours of this morning the radar screen lit up. Eventually there were four blobs leaving trails on the screen - three catchers and the processing ship the Nisshin Maru.

The challenge then for Greenpeace was to find which of the blobs was the Nisshin Maru. With a similar top speed to the Esperanza neither ship can escape from the other. Fortunately for Greenpeace the radar also calculates the speed of the ships it tracks, so despite some deft manoeuvres from the Japanese the Nisshin Maru was successfully pinpointed and we are following it at present.

Greenpeace's discovery of the fleet throws Australian plans to observe the whaling into doubt. The Oceanic Viking left port for what was supposed to be 20 days' filming and photographing the Japanese in action. Now they're as likely to film Greenpeace activists speeding around in inflatables as they are the Japanese whalers at work.

Rival conservation group Sea Shepherd also have a ship looking for the whalers and have already called asking for the fleets coordinates.

However, Greenpeace considers Sea Shepherd's tactics, which have in the past included ramming ships, to be overly aggressive and have made it clear that there will be no cooperation or sharing of information.

FRIDAY 11 JANUARY: RIVALRY ON THE HIGH SEAS

Finding the Japanese whaling fleet when you're alone in the vast Southern Ocean isn't an easy task.

View of Yushin Maru from Esperanza
The catcher ship Yushin Maru was a sign the Japanese whaler was near

So you might think that the presence of two anti-whaling ships off the coast of Antarctica would improve their chances. You'd be wrong.

The Esperanza and the Steve Irwin belong to rival conservation groups Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd. There's little communication and no information sharing between the two ships' crews.

At present both organisations are searching independently in freezing and often impenetrable conditions while the Japanese whaling operation almost certainly continues at the rate of several whales a day.

At the centre of the disagreement is veteran campaigner Paul Watson.

The 57-year-old Canadian was an early member of Greenpeace - but left in the late 1970s to found the rival group.

The two conservation groups haven't seen eye to eye since.

Having been on board Greenpeace's ship for over three weeks and heard lots about Sea Shepherd and Paul Watson, I called him on board the Steve Irwin.

Watson's tactics are the main reason why Greenpeace refuse to work with him. In the past Sea Shepherd has rammed whaling ships, sinking some of them.

This direct action has earned them supporters but also condemnation from governments and the label eco-terrorists.

For Greenpeace - which prides itself on its peaceful methods of protest - it has made co-operating with Sea Shepherd extremely difficult.

"Everything we have done in the last 30 years has been non-violent," Paul Watson insists. "Nobody has ever been killed or injured as the result of our actions."

Having been cut off by Greenpeace, Watson regularly talks of their differences.

Stressing his willingness to co-operate "for the good of the whales", he's offered to share his helicopter and promised to publish the co-ordinates of the whaling fleet when he finds them. But for the most part his offers have been simply ignored.

Watson believes that Greenpeace has lost touch with the ideals of direct action which he says it stood for while he was an active member in the 1970s.

"If you want a story, I mean a real story, not about hanging banners and making whale snuff films then I would encourage you to follow our progress," he told me. "We are not down here to protest these killers - we are down here to stop them."

Greenpeace's strategy, when and if they find the whalers, is to deploy inflatable boats between the Japanese harpoons and the whales. It is a tactic which they call "protecting individual whales rather than targeting the whalers".

Watson says safety concerns mean he won't ram the Japanese if he finds them in the Southern Ocean.

In 2007 his ship collided with a Japanese spotter vessel with both sides blaming the other. This time he is expecting the whalers to simply take flight.

"When we show up they start running," he says. "No whales will be killed while they try and get away from us."

Watson says he's acting under a United Nations charter for nature which he says allows individuals and groups to protect endangered species.

Japan says that its whaling is legal and that Watson is a "eco-terrorist".

The regulations of the International Whaling Commission allow individual countries to authorise whaling if it is for the purpose of scientific research. This year that has meant Tokyo approving the killing of 935 minke and 50 fin whales.

Whatever the legalities, a small as yet undetermined part of Antarctica could soon be a very busy place. As well as Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd, an Australian government ship the Ocean Viking is also on the lookout for the whaling fleet.

MONDAY 7 JANUARY: A (BAD) BREATH-TAKING EXPERIENCE

There is not much privacy on board the Esperanza so it was no great surprise when someone burst into my cabin at 0730 this morning.

Watching a humpback whale surface

There has not been a day in the last week when whales have not been seen, so with my bed snug and the cabin cold my reaction to a fresh sighting on the horizon was understandably lukewarm.

Fortunately my apathy did not last long and I soon pulled on my thermal underwear, fleece and jacket and stumbled off to the wet room. A dry suit later and I was in an inflatable boat - heading towards a spouting part of the sea a few hundred metres away.

When we were close enough to hear the whales we cut the engine and waited. This was a group of humpbacks feeding on krill - a small prawn-like creature that the whales in Antarctica consume in huge quantities.

It turned out that the humpbacks were as curious about us as we were about them. They swam over to us and then for an unforgettable two hours serenaded our small boat.

Grunting and groaning, they came to the surface. We peered down into the water as the humpbacks - over 20 metres (65 feet) long - peered back up at us.

Humpback whales surface close to the inflatable

With the benefit of a very close look I learnt that the blowholes of humpbacks are a curious two-hole affair - looking rather like a nose.

They carry quite a blast however, and when one surfaced just alongside the boat I got a chance to feel it right in my face.

Considering the humpbacks seem to spend their time making loud burping noises, it should come as little surprise that they have got bad breath.

The spray I got had a strong fishy smell which I still have not managed to lose.

As the whales circled us they slapped their pectoral fins on the surface and showed off their knobbled and barnackled heads.

A month ago the Japanese fleet was still planning to kill 50 humpbacks as part of their scientifically licensed whaling programme.

If they had been in the same spot as the Greenpeace ship today, they could probably have got their quota in one go. In every direction there were humpbacks surfacing - and with their curious nature it would have made an easy day for the harpoonist.

But conversely it is also the humpback's easygoing exhibitionist tendencies which have helped it earn its reprieve.

With humpbacks the star attraction of whale-watching industries around the world, the news that Japan was going to target them raised the tenor of complaints around the world.

Australia announced it was planning to send a ship and a plane to monitor the Japanese fleet, and eventually Tokyo changed its mind.

But having let the humpbacks live, international concern for the other 1,000 whales being targeted has dwindled.

Australia's ship, the Oceanic Viking, has yet to leave harbour and the aircraft has yet to make a flight.

Having got as close to a whale as one can get without hitching a ride, I am still in a state of shock.

It is almost a month since I left home heading for Auckland, and approaching three weeks since we set sail, but magic Monday mornings like this make it all worthwhile.

FRIDAY 4 JANUARY: MOOD DARKENS AS AN ENCOUNTER LOOMS

The mood on this ship is changing fast. Up until now it has at times felt like a cross between a youth hostel and a cruise ship.

The 40-or-so people on board have been soaking up the chance to enjoy the incredible experience of being in Antarctica.

An announcement on the ship's loudspeakers is followed by everyone tumbling out onto deck to marvel at an iceberg, dote on penguins or peer at passing whales.

There is a fairly clear hierarchy at these moments - and unfortunately I'm at the bottom of the pile.

Having a small digital camera which only takes one hand to hold instantly marks me out as a lightweight of the photographic world.

All of the big players - and there are many on board - wield long-lensed beasts which can fill a frame with a tiny Adelie penguin at 100m.

Captain Frank Kamp
Tracking down the whaling vessel requires methodical detective work, explains Captain Kamp

The same picture taken with my camera embarrassingly sits alongside many others in an expanding collection entitled "Wide shots of ice in Antarctica".

But the simple daily routine of photo-snapping days is coming to an end.

Having studied charts and scrawled on them predicted paths for the Esperanza and the Japanese whalers, the moment at which the pencil lines cross is rapidly approaching.

Reality check

As the ship's captain, Frank Kamp, explained, it is a game of cat and mouse, with both vessels trying to spot each other on the radar. Either ship can quickly become invisible by stopping and masquerading as an iceberg.

Iceberg

The ship and its crew are being prepared for what is expected to be a difficult, cold and at times dangerous few weeks trying to stop the whalers.

The atmosphere on board changed within the space of half-an-hour. A video of past encounters between Greenpeace and the whalers was shown by some of the more experienced campaigners.

Footage of whales being harpooned by the Japanese fleet brought gasps but it was pictures of the activists bouncing around the ocean in inflatables, being hosed down and thrown into the ice cold water, that really focused the minds.

You could almost hear the gulps as the action co-ordinator talked them through the risks of getting caught on a harpoon line or run over by a catcher ship.

Despite not having a helicopter to search for it, hope remains high among the campaigners that the Japanese fleet will be found.

"We're simply going to be scratching along the ice edge going back and forth along a zig-zag course and we should find them sooner or later," Captain Kamp told me.

"It's not like looking for a needle in a haystack. More like a lamp-post."

Any suspicious blip on the radar now means the engines being cut. If the Japanese fleet see Greenpeace first, they could keep the campaigners out of sight for weeks.

TRACKING JAPANESE WHALERS
Map
November 2007: Japanese fleet of six whaling ships sets sail
31 December: MV Esperanza carrying Greenpeace campaigners enters Antarctic waters on trail of Japanese fleet. MV Steve Irwin carrying rival Sea Shepherd Conservation Group also heads towards whaling fleet
9 January: Australian ship Oceanic Viking leaves Perth on whaling surveillance mission
12 January: Greenpeace campaigners have first sighting of Japanese fleet
15 January: One Briton and one Australian held by Japanese after boarding Yushin Maru No 2 to deliver protest letter
17 January: Protesters handed over to Australian Ocean Viking
26 January: Greenpeace ends its pursuit of factory ship because of fuel shortages



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