Direct action protest group the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) is planning to make frequent returns to Shetland over the next two months during its campaign against the annual slaughter of whales in the Faroe Islands.
Its flagship vessel Steve Irwin has been at Holmsgarth Pier since Tuesday and was joined last night by the 35-metre vessel Brigitte Bardot. The crews of both boats are making final preparations in Lerwick and are due to depart later on Friday to begin the campaign against the traditional Faroese “Grind”, which consists of locals corralling pods of migrating pilot whales into shallow coves as they travel in family groups past the islands.The striking Brigitte Bardot, which has been given a sleek silver metallic makeover, was built in the mid 1990s for the purpose of going around the world and was originally called the Cable and Wireless Adventurer. Her powerful engines give a maximum speed of 25 knots and she accomplished a new record by circumnavigating the world in just under 75 days in July 1998.
The SSCS acquired the Australian-flagged vessel so it could outrun Japanese harpoon ships in its campaign in Southern Antarctica last winter, initially renaming it Gojira (Japanese for “Godzilla”) before being forced by a “cease and desist” order to change it again.
Captain Locky MacLean, born in France, brought up in Canada, and with family roots in Mull, told The Shetland Times the vessel was effectively involved in back-to-back, year-round campaigning between Antarctica, the Mediterranean and Faroe. Earlier this year she was in Libyan waters in the Mediterranean trying to deter poachers looking to illegally catch endangered bluefin tuna.
MacLean said the war in Libya presented an opportunity for poachers, but the SSCS had been cooperating with NATO warships in the area and providing data and information to EU fisheries officials. He said NATO workers had been “really friendly”.
The Brigitte Bardot’s nine crew, plus SSCS founder and captain of the Steve Irwin Paul Watson, arrived in Shetland on Thursday evening after a short two-day voyage up the west coast of Britain from Jersey. MacLean said he had enjoyed sampling single malt whisky in Captain Flint’s until the early hours of Friday. He said Shetland “feels like home” having been brought up in a small island.
It is not the first time SSCS volunteers have been in the isles either, having been here on a stealth boat in 2010. “Now we’re just doing it with our own ships,” he said, adding that with the campaign running until September (when the two vessels will return to the Antarctic), Shetlanders could expect to see the Steve Irwin and Brigitte Bardot making regular “pit stops” in Lerwick for the remainder of the summer.