Retiring the Steve Irwin

Friday, 15 Nov, 2019

"We have had to retire many ships over the last four decades of rough and tough campaigns and it is always sad to do so, but retiring the M/Y Steve Irwin is especially sad for me." Commentary by Sea Shepherd Founder, Captain Paul Watson.

Captain Paul Watson with the M/Y Steve Irwin in 2008. Photo Sea Shepherd.

For over a decade the Steve Irwin was our flagship, taking us to the remote and hostile seas of the Southern Ocean to defend the whales, to the Mediterranean to defend Bluefin tuna and to the Danish Faroe Islands to defend pilot whales and dolphins.

I remember fondly taking the Steve Irwin up the Thames and under Tower Bridge into the heart of London. I remember her passing by the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor and berthing across from the Opera House in Sydney. But most of all, I remember her hull crashing through thick ice and smashing through the belt of storms in the Southern Ocean. The sound of her hull grinding through thick ice floes sent shivers down our spines on many occasions. 

The M/Y Steve Irwin in the Southern Ocean in 2014. Photo Sea Shepherd.

It was my honor to command the Steve Irwin on numerous voyages to stop the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctic waters. This ship roughly kissed the hull of a few Japanese harpoon vessels and blocked the slipway of the Nisshin Maru, and in so doing, saved the lives of over 6,000 whales.

The M/Y Steve Irwin confronts the Japanese whaling slaughterhouse vessel in 2010. Photo Sea Shepherd.

With the Steve Irwin we pursued a fleet of Chinese poachers from the Indian Ocean to China where we successfully turned them over to the Chinese authorities for illegally using outlawed drift nets.

I joyfully remember that day we rammed a tuna net off the coast of Libya and released some 800 Bluefin tuna to freedom. For that the Steve Irwin was arrested and taken to court where we won the case against the poachers.

The M/Y Steve Irwin crashing through the illegal cages to release Bluefin tuna in 2010. Photo Sea Shepherd.

It was back in October 2006, when Captain Alex Cornelissen and I found the ship in Edinburgh, Scotland. This former Scottish fishery inspection vessel called the Westra was purchased and Captain Cornelissen took first command to deliver the ship from Scotland to the Ross Sea via the Strait of Magellan to join up with my crew and I onboard the Farley Mowat. Finally for the first time, we had a ship that was faster than the Japanese factory ship the Nisshin Maru. It was a game changer.

“I will never forget that first epic voyage we took on Sea Shepherd’s new flagship, leaving Scotland and sailing down the length of the Atlantic Ocean and through the breathtaking views of the Strait of Magellan. The excitement that was felt throughout the organization when we started doing our speed tests, knowing that for the first time, we had a vessel that could catch the Nisshin Maru, Japan's floating slaughterhouse and change the game in our favor. It was an honor to have been the first Sea Shepherd captain to have sailed our flagship. And even though it’s sad that we had to retire the Steve, the ship will live on as Sea Shepherd's education and event center.”

Sea Shepherd Global CEO, Captain Alex Cornelissen.
Captain Cornelissen on the deck of the M/Y Steve Irwin. Photo Sea Shepherd.

In December 2007, we renamed the ship in honor of the Australian conservationist Steve Irwin and set about effectively intervening against illegal Japanese whaling operations in the South Ocean Whale Sanctuary, returning every year to chase and block and to eventually shut down the whaling fleet.

Japan retreated permanently from the Southern Ocean in 2019 and our gallant and weather-beaten, ice scarred ship, was exhausted both mechanically and structurally. With victory over the Japanese fleet complete, it was time to retire the Steve Irwin. But fortunately, thanks to the non-profit organization Ship4Good, the Steve Irwin will live on as a Sea Shepherd museum and education and event vessel in Williamstown, Victoria, Australia.

The M/Y Steve Irwin on the edge of the Antarctic ice shelf with the local natives. Photo Sea Shepherd.

"Sea Shepherd’s flagship vessel the M/Y Steve Irwin has conducted multiple campaigns in defense of the oceans, from protecting the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight -- home to one of the world’s most significant whale nurseries -- from risky deep-sea oil drilling, to defending humpback whales off the Kimberley coast of Western Australia,” said Sea Shepherd Australia Director Jeff Hansen. “After over a decade of service to Sea Shepherd, the Steve Irwin, unfortunately, had to be retired. One option on the table was recycling the vessel, however thanks to the passion and vision of Kerrie Goodall who founded Ship4Good, the Steve Irwin will now be a museum and events space.

“From all the team at Sea Shepherd, thank you Kerrie Goodall and Ship4Good, for taking in one of our own, a ship that has spent its entire life defending the oceans. Now, even in retirement, the Steve Irwin vessel will continue to promote and educate the importance of looking after our oceans and directly send profits to support Sea Shepherd ships on the frontline in defense of the oceans,” added Hansen.

“Taking the ship on is a way to honor the dedication and achievements of Sea Shepherd and those that have supported the achievements of the ship."

Ship4Good Founder Kerrie Goodall.

"The Steve Irwin vessel is so much more than just a ship to the wider Sea Shepherd family, for it means a great deal to many,” said Hansen. “From the Irwin family to our crew that have sailed the many seas, to our volunteers that have conducted multiple tours and events to provision the Irwin for campaigns and to our supporters globally, the Steve Irwin holds a special place in all our hearts.”

The M/Y Steve Irwin in the Great Australian Bight for Operation Jeedrara. Photo Sea Shepherd.

Speaking for all of the crew that had the opportunity to serve on the Steve Irwin, I know that they will share my feelings of deep respect for this great ship tempered with a sad acceptance that the Steve Irwin can no longer hunt down poachers and save lives at sea. It is also a consolation to all of us that the ship remains as a solid testament to our collective and passionate efforts to do what many said could not be done – achieving the total security of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

- Captain Paul Watson

The M/Y Steve Irwin the the Southern Ocean. Photo Sea Shepherd.
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