The environmental group Sea Shepherd is set to launch Operation Zero Tolerance, which will put four ships, a helicopter, three drones and more than 100 international volunteers on a collision course with Japan's whaling fleet.
The expedition, which includes several New Zealanders, begins on November 5, and will see Sea Shepherd extend its battlegrounds from Antarctica into the Pacific.
Sea Shepherd captain Paul Watson said the goal was to stop the ships taking any whales in the 2012-13 season. "It's time to bring intervention north and show Japan we intend to ensure there are no whales killed. We have never been stronger, and the Japanese have never been weaker, so we need to take advantage of that."
The crew of the ships will employ unmanned drone aircraft to locate the whaling fleet in Pacific and Antarctic waters.
Formed in 1977, Sea Shepherd has previously concentrated its anti-whaling activities on the Southern Ocean. Its direct action against the commercial fleet was the subject of documentary series Whale Wars, produced by Animal Planet.
The Institute for Cetacean Research - the Japanese government-funded organisation that manages the whaling fleet - revealed this month that Sea Shepherd's protest actions cost whalers $25.2 million in losses in the 2010-11 season, because they had been able to catch only 17 per cent of their quota, and 26 per cent in 2011-12.
"The key to success in stopping illegal whaling in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary is economics," Watson said. "We will negate their profits. Our objective is to sink the fleet economically and we are well on our way to doing that."
Sea Shepherd's latest campaign will see its ships the Steve Irwin, Bob Barker and Bridgette Bardot deployed to try to disrupt the fleet as it makes its way from Japan to Antarctica. The Sam Simon will lie in wait for the ships once they make it to the Southern Ocean hunting grounds.
As the protest flotilla prepares for its annual confrontation, the institute has labelled its actions as "unforgivable acts akin to terrorism".
It said on its website that the environmental group had employed illegal boarding and ramming of research vessels, was using increasingly dangerous and violent sabotage, including throwing chemical-containing projectiles, smokebombs and incendiary devices.
"Such dangerous actions are not peaceful protest but unforgivable acts akin to terrorism that threaten human life at sea. We have condemned the harassment and sabotage and demand that they refrain from further spreading violence under the pretext of protecting whales."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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