Fri, Jan 08, 2010 - Page 5 News List

New Zealand and Australia to probe whaling protest collision

AFP , WELLINGTON

New Zealand and Australia said yesterday they would investigate a Japanese whaling ship’s alleged ramming of a protest boat in Antarctic waters, as activists claimed only luck prevented someone being killed.

The two countries, opponents of Japan’s whaling program, also urged protesters from the militant Sea Shepherd anti-whaling organization and the whalers to stop risking human lives in the isolated Southern Ocean.

The whalers and Sea Shepherd protesters blame each other for Wednesday’s collision, which ended with the six crew members on the Ady Gil being rescued by another protest vessel.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the country’s maritime authorities had responsibility for the New Zealand-registered Ady Gil, a high-tech trimaran that had its bow demolished in the collision with the Shonan Maru No.2.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard ordered the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to probe the incident, which occurred in Australia’s area of responsibility for search and rescue.

“It’s clear that emotions are running high and that lives are at risk. In fact it seems miraculous to me, having seen the video, that lives were not lost during this incident,” Gillard told reporters.

McCully joined Gillard in urging the protesters and whalers not to put lives at risk.

“The New Zealand government is totally opposed to Japanese whaling taking place in the Southern Ocean, but we’re also opposed to killing human beings down there as well,” he said.

Japan has complained to Wellington about the collision involving the New ­Zealand-registered protest boat, top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano, said in Tokyo.

“We have lodged strong protests with the New Zealand government,” Hirano said in a regular press conference. “We have strongly demanded that similar incidents are not be repeated.”

But Sea Shepherd chief Paul Watson said his organization would continue harassing the Japanese whaling fleet despite the setback.

“It handicaps us, it’s a 2 million dollar hit on our organization, plus it takes away our fast interceptor vessel but this is a war,” he said by satellite phone. “As far as I’m concerned, these whales are worth far more than our ships.”

Ady Gil skipper Pete Bethune said the blame for the collision lay squarely with the Japanese ship and he said it was lucky there were no fatalities, although one crew member suffered broken ribs.

“We were lucky there was no-one in the sleeping quarters or someone would have died,” Bethune told Radio New Zealand. “I think what was demonstrated yesterday was the Japanese whalers are just a bunch of thugs.”

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