Greenpeace boats «Arctic Sunrise» and «Esperanza» abandon chase of Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctic waters

Two Greenpeace ships that have been harassing Japan's whaling fleet in Antarctic waters for more than three weeks have abandoned their chase and are returning to South Africa, the organization said Friday.

"We're shifting the campaign focus from the high seas to the supermarket shelves. We're asking consumers to be aware of who funds the whale hunters, and to let them know that whaling is bad for business," Greenpeace Chief Executive Steve Shallhorn said in a statement.

The Arctic Sunrise and the Esperanza have been dogging the Japanese whalers in Antarctic waters since late last year _ frustrating, but not halting their hunt for 850 minke whales and 10 fin whales as part of Japan's scientific research program.

The research is permitted under the rules of the International Whaling Commission, but Australia and other anti-whaling countries say it is really commercial whaling in disguise. The whale meat is sold in Japan.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Carolin Wenzel said it was logistically impossible for the ships to remain in Antarctic waters for the whole of the whale hunting season because of a lack of fuel and other necessities.

The ships had abandoned the whaling fleet and were headed to Cape Town, South Africa, she said. In a statement released Friday, the organization called on its supporters to "use their consumer power to send a strong message to the fishing companies that finance the whaling industry."

Greenpeace is specifically targeting Nissui, which is a major shareholder of Kyodo Senpaku, the company which owns the whaling fleet operating in Antarctica. Subsidiaries of Nissui include the U.S. seafood giant Gorton's Inc. and the New Zealand-based Sealord Group, Ltd.

Kyodo Senpaku declined comment while Nissui representative Takehiko Shimizu said that the company holds approximately one-third of Kyodo Senpaku shares but emphasized that Nissui is not directly involved in the conduct of any operations in the Antarctic and had no other comment.

The monthlong standoff between Greenpeace and the whalers has been plagued with controversy, reports the AP.

Earlier this month, the Arctic Sunrise collided with whaling factory ship the Nisshin Maru, damaging both vessels but causing no injuries. Both sides blamed one another for the crash.

Last week, Canadian Greenpeace activist Texas Joe Constantine was thrown out of a small inflatable boat that had been maneuvering between a harpooner and a minke whale and spent several minutes in the icy waters before being hauled back on board.

A.M.