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. Japanese Whaling Ship In Clash With Eco-Activists

The Sea Shepherd group's Robert Hunter and the Japanese whaling vessele Kaiko Maru collide in Antarctic waters.
by Madeleine Coorey
Sydney (SPX) Feb 13, 2007
A Japanese whaling ship issued a distress signal from Antarctic waters Monday and may be unable to stay at sea after colliding with a protest boat trying to save whales from slaughter, the two sides said. Japan swiftly accused the eco-activists of being "terrorists" and said they had attacked the Kaiko Maru, one of the whaling boats hounded by the conservation group in an ongoing game of nerves in the icy southern seas.

Paul Watson, who leads the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, said the Kaiko Maru backed into one of the group's boats while trying to elude another protest vessel, and later issued a distress signal.

He said his vessel, the Farley Mowat, had been attempting to obstruct the Kaiko Maru when the Japanese boat hit a third ship, Sea Shepherd's Robert Hunter.

"We caught the Kaiko Maru tracking some whales and we moved in," Watson told AFP via satellite phone.

"They backed into us. (The Robert Hunter) got a gash in the steel of the hull of the ship. The damage isn't going to affect the seaworthiness of the ship. Most importantly, the pod of whales got away."

But Hideki Moronuki, head of the Japanese Fisheries Agency's whaling division, said the Kaiko Maru was only observing whales at the time. He said the activists hit the vessel on both ends.

"They threw flares and knotted ropes at our ship in a bid to damage the propeller, at which they succeeded," Moronuki said. "It is not a conservation group. It is a terrorist group."

He said Japan was not sure if the Kaiko Maru could continue the mission, although it remained at sea and has not capsized.

The activists have spent weeks pursuing the controversial Japanese fleet in the frozen southern waters, where they are hunting about 850 minke whales and 10 fin whales.

Last week two activists threw acid on a ship and then were lost on sea for more than seven hours before being located in a search assisted by Japan.

"Even though the Japanese crew members helped them by showing their seamanship, as soon as they were rescued they resumed attacking our ships," Moronuki said.

The International Whaling Commission imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986 but Japan has continued hunting using a loophole that allows scientific research.

Japan has called a meeting from Tuesday to discuss the future of the commission, but most Western nations are boycotting.

Watson, who says the Farley Mowat has been designated a pirate ship after Belize cancelled its registration last month, threatened to use the vessel to ram the whaling fleet.

"The obvious way to obstruct things is to put a ship right in their rear end and get stuck," he said. "If we are going to lose the ship, we might as well lose it in a constructive manner."

He called on the Australian and New Zealand authorities to protect the whales as they do other species in southern waters, such as the endangered Patagonian toothfish.

"If you can give me a guarantee that Australia and New Zealand will do everything they can to stop the killing of these whales... then we will be reasonable and back off," he said.

"I don't understand why people don't wake up and see who the real extremists are."

But Moronuki said Japan had appealed to Australia and New Zealand to rein in the US-based activist group.

Australia's Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that while Australia remained opposed to whaling, Sea Shepherd activists should refrain from dangerous action.

"The type of action they are now proposing -- such as ramming vessels -- could result in a tragedy," he said.

earlier related report
Japan whaler in distress after clash at sea
Sydney (AFP) Feb 12 - A Japanese whaling ship issued a distress signal from Antarctic waters Monday after it collided with a protest boat trying to save whales from slaughter, activists said. Captain Paul Watson, who leads the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, said the Japanese whaler Kaiko Maru backed into one of the society's boats while trying to elude another protest vessel, and later issued a distress signal.

"They are saying they have got a damaged propeller," Watson told AFP via satellite phone.

He said his vessel, the Farley Mowat, had been attempting to obstruct the Kaiko Maru when the Japanese boat hit a third ship, Sea Shepherd's Robert Hunter.

"We caught the Kaiko Maru tracking some whales and we moved in," he said.

"They backed into us. (The Robert Hunter) got a gash in the steel of the hull of the ship. The damage isn't going to affect the seaworthiness of the ship. Most importantly, the pod of whales got away."

New Zealand's Rescue Coordination Centre confirmed that a Japanese vessel had sent a distress signal but said officials were still unsure of what had happened.

"There has been an incident we understand down there. There has been a call," a spokesman told the Australian Associated Press.

The activists have spent weeks pursuing the controversial Japanese fleet in the frozen southern waters, where they are hunting about 850 minke whales and 10 fin whales.

The International Whaling Commission imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986 but Japan has continued hunting for what it calls scientific research.

Critics reject this claim, and Japan makes no secret of the fact that the meat from the hunt winds up on dinner plates.

Watson, who says the Farley Mowat has been designated a pirate ship after Belize cancelled its registration last month, threatened to use the vessel to ram the whaling fleet.

"The obvious way to obstruct things is to put a ship right in their rear end and get stuck," he said. "If we are going to lose the ship, we might as well lose it in a constructive manner."

He called on the Australian and New Zealand authorities to protect the whales as they do other species in southern waters, such as the endangered Patagonian toothfish.

"If you can give me a guarantee that Australia and New Zealand will do everything they can to stop the killing of these whales... then we will be reasonable and back off," he said.

"I don't understand why people don't wake up and see who the real extremists are."

The anti-whalers' pursuit of the Japanese fleet has not been without incident. For weeks the conservationists were unable to locate the whalers and in desperation offered a reward to anyone who could help find them.

Once contact was made, the militant activists tried to disrupt the hunt but they were forced to call a truce when two activists in an inflatable craft were lost in foggy weather while filming an encounter.

The Japanese ships helped search for the two men, who were found unharmed before bad weather forced both sides to temporarily abandon their missions.

"It's a circus, that's for sure. But it could all be prevented by upholding international law," Watson said.

Japan this week hosts a meeting of members of the world whaling body to debate its future but most key Western nations are boycotting the talks -- which they see as a ploy to resume commercial whaling.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Related Links
Sea Shepherd
Darwin Today At TerraDaily.com

Anti-Whalers To Snub Japan's Whaling Talks
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 12, 2007
Japan this week hosts a meeting of members of the world whaling body to debate its future, but most key Western nations are boycotting talks which they see as a ploy to resume commercial whaling. The three-day conference starting Tuesday mirrors sharp differences within the International Whaling Commission (IWC) where leading pro-whaling nations including Japan have been making steady inroads.

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