Former Albany whaling workers sheds new light on dangerous encounter with protestors

Albany Advertiser
The encounter between Cheynes IV and anti-whaling activists. The ship’s cook (in white) and captain are on the deck.
Camera IconThe encounter between Cheynes IV and anti-whaling activists. The ship’s cook (in white) and captain are on the deck. Credit: Alistair Anderson

A former whaling deckhand has shed new light on one of the most volatile periods in Albany’s history, when the whaling industry was in its death throes and the Greenpeace movement was going global.

Alistair Anderson has shared his account of a skirmish between the Cheynes IV whale chaser and anti-whaling activists, including photos he took from the ship as the encounter reached fever pitch.

The Albany man started as a “deckie” on the Cheynes IV in July 1977, just weeks before Greenpeace’s anti-whaling activists brought international attention to WA’s south coast.

Spending 21 days at sea on each trip, one of his jobs was to keep a lookout for whales from the crow’s nest or “barrel” as the crew called it.

He was also tasked with splicing ropes and taking his turn at the wheel as they ventured to and from the continental shelf.

Mr Anderson only worked in the industry for the 1977 season, but it gave him plenty of lasting memories, such as the calm days when the salmon were so thick around the ship it seemed he could have walked on their backs.

Former Cheynes IV deckhand Alistair Anderson with a photo of an encounter with anti-whaling protestors.
Camera IconFormer Cheynes IV deckhand Alistair Anderson with a photo of an encounter with anti-whaling protestors. Credit: Albany Advertiser

There was also the time the Cheynes IV was “attacked” by a whale after it had been shot on November 26, 1977.

“While watching from the barrel above I could clearly hear the high shrill call of the whale,” Mr Anderson said. “This made me very uncomfortable and the memory of it still does to this day.”

Mr Anderson said the whale and the harpoon protruding from its head struck the boat when he was about halfway down the ladder.

“This effect can best be described as similar to a spider web being affected by high winds,” he said.

The rest of the deckies said they had not felt vibrations or noticed the whale hitting the ship.

But the next day, the crew arrived at work to find the Cheynes IV sinking at the town jetty.

Mr Anderson said he believed the harpoon penetrated the ship.

Perhaps his most compelling memory, however, was the encounter with anti-whaling activists on September 5, 1977.

Anti-whaling protestors near the whale.
Camera IconAnti-whaling protestors near the whale. Credit: Alistair Anderson

Greenpeace founder Bob Hunter had travelled to Albany to support the protests of Australian group The Whale and Dolphin Coalition.

The Cheynes IV crew could see a crowd of activists gathered at the whaling station as they left King George Sound.

Mr Anderson said he was directing the ship towards a group of whales when a Zodiac dinghy approached with two men on board — Jean-Paul Fortom-Gouin and Tom Barber.

What followed sparked a police investigation.

Mr Anderson was interviewed by Albany police until about 3am the next morning, denying certain claims made by the activists of dangerous or inappropriate behaviour by the crew.

Forty-three years later, he has given a public account of those events.

After the crew had shot and killed one of the whales, the activists manoeuvred their dinghy in between the ship and its catch.

The front page of the Advertiser on September 8, 1977.
Camera IconThe front page of the Advertiser on September 8, 1977.

As they passed over the slack harpoon rope, it became entangled in their propeller.

“Had the whale involved not been killed outright by (Captain) Paddy Hart and had dived ... that would probably have been that for the men in the Zodiac,” Mr Anderson said.

Once the rope was freed, the activists had a verbal confrontation with members of the crew.

Mr Anderson, who was in the barrel as it all unfolded, said the incident escalated when the ship’s cook picked up an unloaded harpoon grenade.

He described the cook as a dangerous character — more threatening than anyone he met in 17 years as a community corrections officer.

On one occasion, the pair wrestled in the ship’s mess after he gave the cook some unfavourable feedback on his food.

The anti-whaling protestors caught in the harpoon rope.
Camera IconThe anti-whaling protestors caught in the harpoon rope. Credit: Alistair Anderson

“There was little doubt, in my view, that those two men would have been seriously injured or killed if the grenade had been thrown into the Zodiac,” he said.

Mr Anderson said the anti-whaling sentiment spreading around the world was not shared by the workers and their families who relied on the industry for a living.

But he felt a certain respect for the actions of the activists.

“I could not help having a high regard for the Greenpeace activists who took personal risks during this incident for their beliefs in drawing worldwide sympathy for their cause,” he said.

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