A group of militant conservationists embroiled in a series of violent clashes with Japanese whalers in the Antarctic Ocean ended their campaign for the season, the group’s leader said yesterday.
The risk had become too great that someone would be seriously injured in the increasingly contentious run-ins on the remote and icy waters, said Paul Watson, captain of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s ship.
“They’re becoming ridiculously aggressive and I was just afraid someone was going to get hurt,” Watson told reporters by satellite phone from his boat, named after the late Australian conservationist and TV personality Steve Irwin.
The Dutch-registered Steve Irwin left the whalers on Monday for the southern Australian state of Tasmania. They were expecting to arrive in the city of Hobart sometime next week, Watson said.
The company that operates Japan’s whaling ships blamed Sea Shepherd for the recent skirmishes, saying it was the protesters who escalated the attacks by ramming two Japanese vessels and pelting whalers with acid-filled glass bottles.
Japan — which has described the protesters as terrorists — plans to harvest up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales this season.
Under International Whaling Commission rules, the mammals may be killed for research. Opponents say the Japanese research expeditions are simply a cover for commercial whaling, which was banned in 1986.
“The escalating terror attacks will necessitate consideration of new security strategies to protect our ships and crews,” Kazuo Yamamura, president of Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, the company that operates Japan’s whaling ships, said in a statement.
Japanese fisheries officials said they would stay on alert in case the Sea Shepherd crew returned.
“We don’t trust what they say. How can you be so sure if they won’t come back to attack our fleet?” said Shigeki Takaya, a Fisheries Agency official in charge of whaling.