Whalers accuse Sea Shepherd of sabotage
Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean are claiming environmental activist group Sea Shepherd is trying to sabotage their refuelling operations.
And Sea Shepherd says the Japanese are using their large factory ship Nisshin Maru to "ram" the smaller protester ships.
So far no one has been hurt in the at-times violent clashes, which yesterday saw ships damaged, and also feature on Animal Planet's documentary-reality television series Whale War.
Both sides are producing video clips to support their claims.
What is striking however is that the clashes are taking place on a stretch of ocean that also has icebergs and is about 4000 kilometres away from any help.
Both sides have been clashing since 2008 and this time the Japanese fleet has a tanker, Sun Laurel, with its fleet of whale chasers and factory ship.
Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research, which operates the whaling fleet, says that in yesterday's incidents, Nisshin Maru was trying to come alongside Sun Laurel but that Sea Shepherd vessels were "again provoking collisions" and were subjecting the Japanese to sabotage.
"As the Nisshin Maru was about to come alongside her supply tanker for refuelling, the Sea Shepherd vessels Steve Irwin, Bob Barker and Sam Simon repeatedly forced their way between the Nisshin Maru and her supply tanker," the institute said.
It said that during their obstruction to refuelling operations the Sea Shepherd vessels Bob Barker and Sam Simon repeatedly rammed the Nisshin Maru and the supply tanker.
The institute said it was using its water cannon on Sea Shepherd vessels as "a preventive measure" to stop them coming closer.
It said Sea Shepherd was being "extremely dangerous and foolhardy" and it was threatening the safety of "research ships and lives of crews on them, and is therefore completely unacceptable".
The institute called on New Zealand, the Netherlands and Australia to take action against Sea Shepherd.
The institute said Japan's whaling "is a perfectly legal activity carried out under the International Whaling Convention for the Regulation of Whaling".
It also denied the refuelling operations had resulted in oil being spilled.
"Refuelling from the supply tanker to the research vessels is safely conducted through a hermetically sealed fuel transfer system, making leakage impossible," the institute said.
"SS's allegations and rumours about the supply tanker hitting icebergs and oil spilling are equally unfounded."
Sea Shepherd said in its latest account of yesterday's incidents that the whaling fleet was backed up by the Japanese Self Defence Force icebreaker Shirase.
"The Nisshin Maru has caused at least three collisions: twice with the Bob Barker, shoving the ship into the Sun Laurel . . . and ramming the Sam Simon," Sea Shepherd said.
"The Bob Barker has sustained major damage from being sandwiched between the Nisshin Maru and the fuel tanker Sun Laurel. The engine room is now visible through a crack in the floor of the galley."
It said Sam Simon had "scratches and dings" along its hull, and a smashed satellite dome.
"The three Yushin Maru harpoon ships crossed the bows of Sea Shepherd Ships trailing propeller-fouling lines," the organisation said.
"The Sam Simon, Steve Irwin, and Bob Barker have had flooding in their engine from the Nisshin Maru's water cannons. The Nisshin Maru threw a flash-bang grenade that exploded off the port stern of the Sun Laurel, leaving large black charred marks."