A Greenpeace vessel trying to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt in waters near Antarctica has run low on fuel and is returning to port, the group said.
The Esperanza spent 14 days trailing the factory ship Nisshin Maru, Greenpeace said in a statement on Saturday, claiming its actions during that time had kept hunter vessels traveling with the ship from carrying out their hunt.
Phones rang unanswered yesterday at Japan's Fisheries Agency and the Institute of Cetacean Research, the government-affiliated organization that oversees the hunt.
Japan has staunchly defended its annual killing of more than 1,000 whales, conducted under a clause in International Whaling Commission (IWC) rules that allows whales to be killed for scientific purposes.
Critics dismiss the Japanese program as a disguise for commercial whaling, which has been banned by the IWC since 1986.
Japan had planned to kill up to 50 endangered humpback whales this season, but backed away last month after strong international condemnation. It has a quota to kill 935 minkes and 50 fin whales.
On Tuesday, the Esperanza clashed with the whaling fleet, with each side accusing the other of dangerous tactics after Greenpeace activists failed to prevent the factory ship from refueling.
The clash came a week after an altercation with the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd that saw two activists taken into custody.
Japan and Australia eventually arranged for their return through the Oceanic Viking, an Australian customs vessel monitoring the fleet.
The Oceanic Viking was still tracking the whalers when the Esperanza left, Greenpeace said in its statement.