The bad ship Alma

Since June last year, things have got a little trickier for Kristján Loftsson's particular cargo.

Kristján Loftsson is a whaler in Iceland. Or rather, he’s the whaler in Iceland.

It’s been interesting watching his attempts to export the meat from around 160 endangered fin whales that his company Hvalur has killed over the past few years. Up until about six months ago export figures showed that he dribbled a few tons to Japan by unknown routes. It’s unclear who he sells the meat to, it’s even suggested that he sells it to his own company in Japan and then sells the meat on to local buyers. You can certainly see small quantities of Icelandic whale meat in Tsukiji fish market and last year online dog food suppliers were even advertising Icelandic fin whale meat dog food.

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However, since June last year things have got a little trickier for this particular cargo. First of all the Ports of Rotterdam and Hamburg found themselves under pressure to deny their facilities to this trade. This resulted in six containers of fin whale meat being returned to Reykjavik. Then in February this year there was a hoo-ha across Canada as ten or more containers of the results of this deadly and cruel trade made their way by rail from Nova Scotia to British Columbia.

In late March, just before the US Government announced diplomatic sanctions against Iceland because of this trade, Mr Loftsson was seen at the dock near Reykjavik as truck load after truck load of cardboard boxes labelled frozen whale in Japanese were loaded onto the reefer Alma, bound for Tokyo.

Fin whales are listed as endangered by IUCN, The World Conservation Union. Iceland filed a legally dubious reservation to the whaling moratorium at the International Whaling Commission.  Iceland also filed a reservation to the trade ban in fin (and other) whales through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). So Iceland defies world opinion and does not respect the legal protection that fin whales have. That’s why the US announced diplomatic sanctions against Iceland a short time after the Alma sailed.

So off sailed the Alma south of Iceland and everyone wondered where she would go. She was bound to meet controversy wherever she went. First it was all eyes on the Mediterranean Sea – the obvious short route to Japan through the Suez canal. However, the Alma resolutely steamed past the Straits of Gibraltar.

The Alma ploughed on down the entire length of Africa and appeared to be aiming for Durban just around the Cape. This was certainly the long way to Japan from Iceland. As she neared Durban thousands of people signed a petition that asked that this vessel and her unwanted cargo should be made unwelcome in South Africa. In the event, the Alma chose not to make landfall and continued on her lonely way, now seemingly onwards to Singapore.

So, on she steams across the Indian Ocean. Some of you may know of a British football team called Millwall. Their fans proudly chant “No one likes us, we don’t care.” Maybe that’s what they’re singing on the Alma…


For more information about IFAW efforts to protect whales, visit our campaign page.

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