VIDEO: Japan puts whaling mission on hold
Japanese whalers have suspended their Southern Ocean hunting a day after their ships jostled with vessels from the radical anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd. The organisation claims two of its ships were "rammed" yesterday by the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru as it tried to come alongside a Korean tanker Sun Laurel to refuel.
One of the organisation's ships, Bob Barker, sustained wheel house damaged and briefly issued a mayday distress signal fearing it might roll.
Video and photos released by Sea Shepherd confirm Nisshan Maru and Bob Barker collided but it is less clear whether it was a deliberate ramming. Nisshan Maru appears to be coming alongside Sun Laurel as Bob Barker blocks the way.
Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that it had temporarily suspended the whale hunt. It said the decision was made because it was too difficult to refuel. Sea Shepherd's Paul Watson said Nisshan Maru's captain "lost his temper, and unfortunately road rage with an 8,000 ton ship in remote waters amongst icebergs and ice packs can be somewhat intimidating". Watson said the 8000 ton Nisshan Maru also hit its own supply tanker four times.
The refuelling operation was planned for yesterday but the three Sea Shepherd ships, the Sam Simon, the Bob Barker and the Steve Irwin, had taken up positions around the Sun Laurel to block any approach by the Nisshin Maru. Watson said yesterday morning the Nisshin Maru moved closer to the stern of the Sun Laurel as the three Japanese harpoon vessels began to circle with their water cannons shooting towards the Sea Shepherd ships.
"The Nisshin Maru kept edging closer in an effort to intimidate the Sea Shepherd Ships and it was indeed intimidating," he said.
"The Nisshin Maru towered above our ships at ten times the size." Watson claims the bosun on Sun Laurel warned the factory ship to stop because they were dangerously close, but the factory ship continued to move closer, pinching the Steve Irwin between its massive hull and the side of the tanker.
The Bob Barker then moved into position to defend the Steve Irwin and attempted to block the Japanese poaching ship. Watson said crew on Nisshin Maru were throwing "concussion grenades" and hitting both the Bob Barker and the Steve Irwin with powerful water cannons.