Anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has said it achieved its aim of forcing Japan’s whaling fleet out of Antarctic waters claimed by Australia.
In a statement on its Web site, the US-based group said its ship, the Steve Irwin, had forced the fleet into waters off the Ross Dependency, which is a New Zealand possession.
Australia has declared an “economic exclusion zone,” known by the letters “EEZ,” in waters off the coast of its Antarctic territories, and an Australian court order bans whaling there.
Sea Shepherd has said it is enforcing that order by pursuing Japan’s whaling fleet, which is in the area for an annual hunt to kill around 900 whales.
However, Japan does not recognize the zone and says its whaling fleet is in international waters.
In the statement, dated on Saturday, Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson promised his organization would continue its pursuit of the Japanese fleet.
“The good news is that they are no longer whaling in Australian waters and they only managed to hunt in the waters of the Australian Antarctic Territory for about a week before being forced to flee the Australian EEZ,” the statement said. “They are now in the waters of the Ross dependency and the Steve Irwin is in pursuit.”
Watson said this was “bad news” for whales in waters south of New Zealand.
Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research, which runs the hunt, has accused Sea Shepherd of “eco-terrorism” and of ramming its vessel the Kaiko Maru during a protest action on Friday. Sea Shepherd has blamed the Japanese for the collision.
In a video of the incident released on its Web site, the organization showed the crew of the Japanese ship warning Sea Shepherd in English that its protesters would be treated as “illegal intruders under Japanese law” if they tried to board.
However, Sea Sepherd said in an online statement it was the Japanese ship that “steered hard” and struck the Steve Irwin, although neither vessel suffered serious damage.
During the last whaling season, two Sea Shepherd activists were briefly held on a Japanese vessel they boarded during a protest action.
Despite an international moratorium on whaling since 1986, Japan justifies the hunt on the grounds that its whaling is for “scientific” purposes.
Much of the meat ends up on supermarket shelves.
The militant environmentalists said they had pelted stink bombs at Kaiko Maru to disrupt its whale hunting.
Sea Shepherd said it “pursued and delivered 10 bottles of rotten butter and 15 bottles of a methyl cellulose and indelible dye mixture” to the whaling vessel on Friday evening.
“We cannot tolerate disruptive activities that threaten the safety of the crew members,” Minoru Morimoto, head of the Institute of Cetacean Research, which carries out Japan’s whale hunting operations, said in a statement.
Paul Watson, the captain of the activists’ ship, said in the statement that his crew was trying to push the Japanese whalers out of Australian waters. Sea Shepherd is an international group with headquarters in the US and Australia.
For the past four years Watson has led a Sea Shepherd vessel trying to impede the whaling ships during their hunting season.
Watson claimed earlier this year that his ship’s hounding of the Japanese whalers last season had saved the lives of 500 of the giant mammals.
After an earlier attempt to pelt a Japanese harpoon boat with stink bombs, Watson said on Monday that the activists would continue trying to hamper the whalers.