Activists, Japanese whalers clash in Antarctic waters

Anti-whaling activists and Japanese harpoonists have blamed each other for a collision between their ships in Antarctic waters, as the environmentalists warned on Sunday of more clashes to come.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has accused the harpoon ship Yushin Maru No.3 of intentionally slamming into its vessel the Bob Barker on Saturday. The Japanese say they were rammed as they tried to avoid a collision.

“We expect that there will be further collisions because they are going to try and whale and we’re not going to move,” Paul Watson, head of the Sea Shepherd mission, said on Sunday.

Watson said the Bob Barker had spent the past month trying to find the Japanese hunting fleet in the remote seas of Antarctica and finally located it off Cape Denley in Australian Antarctic waters on Saturday morning.

The environmentalists immediately moved to position themselves about 200m from the stern of the Japanese factory ship the Nisshin Maru to prevent them from loading any dead whales onboard, he said.

“They were immediately surrounded by four of the harpoon vessels that were circling them and hitting them with water cannons and long-range acoustical devices or sonic weapons,” Watson said.

“And then one of them, the Yushin Maru No.3, came in really close and did an abrupt turn and slammed its stern way into the sternside of our ship which opened up a one-metre by four-inch wide gash.”

Projectiles, lazers
Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research said the collision occurred as the Yushin Maru No.3 tried to avoid the Bob Barker which it said had moved dangerously close to throw projectiles containing foul-smelling butyric acid at it.

“When the Yushin Maru No.3 tried to avoid this, the Bob Baker collided against its stern,” it said in a statement.

The Bob Barker had also been repeatedly firing a “high-power green laser device against the Nisshin Maru crew” prior to the collision and later used a “large slingshot device” to shoot acid-filled projectiles at another ship, the Shonan Maru No.2, it added.

No one was injured in the clash and neither ship sustained major damage.

The confrontation follows a January 6 collision between a hunting fleet vessel and Sea Shepherd’s Ady Gil which sank the activists’ futuristic trimaran. The whalers and the protesters blame each other for that crash.

‘Lethal research’
Japan hunts whales using a loophole in a 1986 international moratorium which allows “lethal research”, despite the diplomatic objections of Australia.

Watson said this year’s campaign by the militant Sea Shepherd group, its sixth chasing Japanese whalers on the southern hemisphere summer hunt, had been successful in its aim of saving whales.

“And I think now that we have them, unless they sink us, we’re going to be able to shut down their whaling operations for the rest of their season,” he said from on board the Steve Irwin, which is heading to join the Bob Barker.

Watson said he was relieved the Bob Barker had caught up with the whalers, who had drifted from sight following the January clash, saying finding the fleet was “like trying to track a bus across the entire stretch of Europe”.

The conservationists are likely to chase the whalers until the hunt ends in about mid-March when the weather in the Southern Ocean worsens, he said. – AFP

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