From the engine room the steel frame of our ship looks like Jell-O: the Razor-sharp ice chunks, called ‘growlers,’ hammer at the metal ship as we try to pave a path of escape, and they make the ship flex from the outside in. Fears of a breach creep in: we tell nervous jokes about the Titanic to ease the tension, additional metal is welded onto the hull for extra insurance, and even the experienced captain, who takes the helm and with whom we trust our lives, has a worried look in his eyes.
“It would take anywhere between 30 minutes to several days for the ship to sink depending on the damage,” engineer Dave Nickarz, from Winnipeg, tells me while on the bridge.
It’s not entirely reassuring, considering that we are in the Antarctic waters with few willing to stick their necks out to rescue a radical conservationist ship that is owned by Sea Shepherd. Labelled as ‘eco-terrorists’ by many diplomats and governments, their tactics include ramming vessels in the open ocean, boarding ships, and throwing stink bombs at those they oppose.
Few can stop them in their determination to save marine wildlife: Not harsh criticism by politicians, media and the public; not court cases, investigations or interrogations; not even underwater missile shots by the Norwegian navy, boat raiding by the Canadian coast guard off the east coast, or tear gas attacks by the Faroese.
The only thing that does seem to stop them is the god of the seas himself, Neptune. When he decides to let us see, there is up to 14 miles of visibility in every direction. When he decides to blind us, the fog can take over and we don’t even see past our own bow. When he decides to cradle us, being tied up to port can feel more of a disturbance than the calm gliding through the sea. When he decides to dance with us, it is like the dance of Shiva, the god of destruction and creation. Evidently, in recent days, Neptune’s been in a bad mood, and we’ve been battered by ice and waves.
It’s kind of ironic: trying to beat back mother nature’s wrath to save her, her great leviathans of the sea, that is. Hours turn into days as the boat keeps getting cut off from its prey, the whalers, by walls of ice. Turning east, then west, northeast, then southwest. Zigzagging in a maze that seems inescapable.
Today, the fog diminishes, we can see. The dance of destruction with the seas turns into gentle cradling. The ice finds others to enslave. Neptune sets us free. And Sea Shepherd marches to its ecological battlefield.
Emily Hunter is an environmental journalist. She is currently working on a book about young environmental activism, The Next Eco-Warriors and a documentary on illegal whaling in Antarctica.