January 18, 2012
Sea Shepherd Activists Injured After Clash With Japanese Whalers
Three anti-whaling activists have been injured during a clash at sea with Japanese whalers, some 300 miles north of Mawson Peninsula off the coast of Antarctica.
Members aboard the Japanese vessel Yushin Maru No.2 apparently threw grappling hooks and bamboo poles at crew aboard the Steve Irwin anti-whaling vessel. Two crew members on the Steve Irwin were struck in the shoulder with iron grappling hooks and a third crew member was struck twice in the face with a long bamboo pole.
Members of the Steve Irwin are part of the activist group Sea Shepherd, which annually shadows and harasses the Japanese whaling fleet. The group claimed Wednesday that three of their members were viciously attacked in the run-in. The activists showed signs of cuts and bruises after the clash in the Southern Ocean.
“Our small boats were attempting to slow down the Japanese harpoon vessel YS2, which is aggressively tailing the Steve Irwin,” Captain Paul Watson said on the Sea Shepherd website.
Sea Shepherd said the three men injured in the clash were American Brian Race, who was struck with the bamboo pole, receiving lacerations above his right eye and on his nose; South African Russell Bergh, a cameraman for Animal Planet, who was struck in the right arm and shoulder with a grappling hook; and French photographer Guillaume Collet, who was also hit in the right arm and shoulder by a grappling hook.
Japan´s Fisheries Agency denied the accusations, accusing crew aboard the Steve Irwin of starting the conflict by using ropes to try to disable the ship´s rudder and propeller and hurling some 30 bottles containing paint at crew on the YS2.
“They hurled iron hooks with ropes several times. They cut ropes and nets in floats attached to YS2 to prevent outsiders from climbing aboard,” the Fisheries Agency said. “YS2 gave warnings, by voice and water cannon, to the obstructive activities. It also used bamboo poles to push back the small boats when they tried to cut off ropes attached to floats and nets against trespassers.”
The agency called Sea Shepherd´s actions “extremely dangerous acts which threaten the safety of our country´s vessel and the life of its crew.”
Nobody aboard YS2 was injured during the clash.
The Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), sponsor of Japan´s whaling hunts, posted a statement on its website saying the activists were trying to “sabotage” the YS2, throwing ropes with hooks and hurling glass bottles filled with paint.
“When the activists started using a knife to cut the YS2 float fender rope and net, the Japanese vessel crew used bamboo poles as a measure to push the boat back,” the statement said.
The Japanese have also released a video of the clash showing a water cannon on the YS2 being sprayed at a rubber dingy while objects were being thrown at their ship.
Japan´s whaling fleet, made up of three ships, left the Japanese port of Shimonoseki on December 6 for their annual whaling hunt. Crew and officials beefed up their security measures after clashes in previous years. Commercial whaling has been banned since the 80s, but Japan says the 1,000 or so whales it catches each year are strictly for its scientific research program.
Critics, including the anti-whaling Sea Shepherd activists, say it is commercial whaling in disguise.
The Sea Shepherd deployed three of its own vessels to follow Japan´s fleet this year, but one, Brigitte Bardot, was damaged in high seas earlier this month and was forced to return to Australia port. The Steve Irwin escorted the Brigitte Bardot, which was also tailed by another of Japan´s vessels, Shonan Maru No.2.
Japan last week handed over to Australian authorities three activists from Forest Rescue Australia that had boarded the Shonan Maru as it followed the Steve Irwin back out of port off Australia´s coast on January 7. The return of the activists came only after intervention from Canberra.
Sea Shepherd still has two anti-whaling vessels out at sea -- the Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker.
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