Daniel Beltra  /  Greenpeace AP
The damaged Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru is sandwiched by a refueling vessel, left, and hunter vessel in the Ross Sea in Antarctica on Saturday.
updated 2/20/2007 12:50:06 PM ET 2007-02-20T17:50:06

Repair crews failed Tuesday to restart the engine of a crippled Japanese whaler but were not yet planning to tow the ship away from the pristine Antarctic coastline, an official said.

Steve Corbett, whose organization Maritime New Zealand has been in daily contact with the stricken Nisshin Maru since a fire broke out on board Thursday, said no significant progress was reported on getting the ship moving under its own power.

"They are still trying without success so far to get the main engine going," said Corbett. "They'll carry on trying tomorrow."

Between 70 and 80 crew are now working aboard the ship, but "they haven't given us any ... timeframe" for moving the ship, he said.

The 8,000-ton ship is currently lashed to two other whaling ships about 110 miles from the world's largest Adelie penguin breeding rookery in the Ross Sea.

Officials in New Zealand and environmentalists are concerned the ship could begin leaking some of the 343,000 gallons of oil it is carrying, and urged that it be urgently moved out of the area.

No oil or other chemicals have spilled from the ship.

New Zealand's Conservation Minister said Tuesday that the crippled whaler was unlikely to be allowed to enter the waters of the strongly anti-whaling nation if the vessel has to be towed to port for repairs.

"They do have whale meat on board, it is a vessel that's currently unsafe — and filled with rather nasty and toxic chemicals," Carter told reporters.

The ship sustained less damage than originally thought, but if the engines don't restart, the Nisshin Maru will be towed out of the area by other ships in the six-vessel fleet, Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research spokesman Glenn Inwood told New Zealand's National Radio.

Whether it was towed or moved out under its own power, he said getting the ship out of the area "as quickly as possible is on everyone's minds."

"There is no concern over any environment problems occurring down there at all," Inwood said.

Japanese officials say the fire did not cause any structural damage to the ship. One crew member died.

The fire crippled Japan's efforts to hunt up to 945 whales in the Southern Ocean in a season that runs from mid-December to mid-March, because the Nisshin Maru is the only ship in the fleet that can process carcasses.

It was not known how many whales were killed before the fire.

Corbett said the threat of environmental disaster from the ship is small, but significant.

"We can't afford to take any chances with that environment," he said. "The consequences of anything happening there are so disastrous we want to remove the threat."

Calm weather in the area is forecast to continue for the next two days — but "that won't last" in the volatile southern ocean environment, he noted.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said the ship should be taken out of the area quickly, and warned that Japan would spark anger round the world if its ship polluted the pristine environment.

The stricken vessel should return to Japan, and the episode should prompt Japan to reconsider its annual whale hunts in the Southern Ocean, she said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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