– A Japanese whaling fleet is heading home after high-seas brinksmanship with environmental groups and a deadly fire that crippled its mother ship and ended the hunt in the Antarctic hundreds of whales short of its goal.
The return of the six-ship fleet brought to an early end this year’s hunt, which had been scheduled to continue through March. Officials said it was the first time in the 20 years since the scientific hunts began that one had to end early.
"We are very disappointed," Takahide Naruko, the head of the Fisheries Agency’s Far Seas Division, said Wednesday.
Officials also lodged a strong protest over "vicious and reckless" attempts by whaling opponents to sabotage the hunt, which killed 508 whales out of a target of 860.
The fire aboard the Nisshin Maru two weeks ago killed one crew member and left the vessel unable to sail under its own power for 10 days, prompting protests from New Zealand and from the environmental group Greenpeace over potential oil and chemical spills or damage to penguin colonies.
Naruko said the cause of the fire was under investigation. He said the Nisshin Maru would likely be repaired in time for the next hunt, in the northwest Pacific in May, when Japan plans to kill 350 whales.