Kiwi sailor and environmentalist Pete Bethune is in a high-stakes, hi-tech battle with Japanese whaling ships as tensions mount in the southern ocean.
Mr Bethune's bio-diesel powered vessel Earthrace, renamed Ady Gil, has engaged in hostilities with the Shonan Maru 2, which conservationist group Sea Shepherd claims is acting as a bodyguard to a fleet of Japanese whaling boats.
Crew from the Japanese "research" whaler Shonan Maru No 2 said they had been subjected to three hours of harassment by Ady Gil in Antarctic waters yesterday.
The Ady Gil, now registered in New Zealand, holds the world record for global circumnavigation in a motorised boat.
Under its previous name of Earthrace, it circumnavigated the globe in 60 days, 23 hours and 49 minutes in 2008.
The whalers have used water cannons to fire on the conservationists' vessels, while the activists have used sonic weapons and "photonic disrupter" lasers they claim are not harmful.
Speaking today from near Macquarie Island, Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd protest vessel Steve Irwin said both his ship and Mr Bethune's boat had been involved in exchanges with the Shonan Maru 2 as the two conservation boats tussled with a Japanese fleet he branded as "poachers" and "criminals".
The Japanese had tried to destroy the Steve Irwin's helicopter using a high-pressure water cannon, and aimed a long-range acoustic device (LRAD) "a sonic weapon" at the helicopter's pilot, Sea Shepherd says.
"The Ady Gil came in to help us, and yes, they did use photonic disrupters. They're not lasers, they're not harmful: we use them to confuse the harpooners, we fire these at them and they can't see."
According to the manufacturer's website, photonic disrupters "will temporarily overwhelm a threat's visual senses without causing permanent eye damage".
Mr Watson would not divulge the Ady Gil's position, but was in regular contact with Mr Bethune through encrypted emails.
"The Ady Gil's had one confrontation with the Shonan Maru when they tried to slow them down to get them off our back they fired water cannons and LRADs on to the Ady Gil.
"I don't know what kind of game they're (the Japanese) playing their claims that we're attacking them are ridiculous, because we can't catch them," Mr Watson said.
"They (the Japanese) come in and attack us, we defend ourselves, and then they claim they're under attack," Mr Watson said. "We can't get rid of these guys they're coming after us. They're trying to paint a picture of us being an aggressor."
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has commissioned Adi Gil to operate in Antarctic waters under a New Zealand flag, alongside the Dutch-registered Steve Irwin.
It has a crew of five and is capable of 90kmh speeds in Antarctic waters. During the current Japanese whaling season, the society is hoping Ady Gil's speed will let it physically block Japanese harpoons from slaughtering whales.
A statement issued by the Japanese whalers read: "The activists onboard the Ady Gil repeatedly irradiated a green laser device aiming at the Shonan Maru No 2 crew. They fired ball-like objects with a projectile launching device.
"Neither injuries to the Japanese crew nor damage to the Shonan Maru No. 2 resulted from the Ady Gil attack."
The Japanese-controlled Institute of Cetacean Research urged the New Zealand and Dutch governments to take appropriate measures against their protest ships.
There are four New Zealanders and one Dutch citizen on Ady Gil.
- with The Dominion Post
- © Fairfax NZ News
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