A new high-sea struggle between a Japanese whaling fleet and anti-whaling activists is expected to erupt within days in the icy waters of the Antarctic, a Greenpeace spokesman said yesterday.
The Japanese fleet was refuelling at sea after an "extraordinary" 3,000km chase across the Southern Ocean, Greenpeace expedition leader Shane Rattenbury said.
"We don't know exactly what their next move will be, but we assume they will return to the hunting grounds," Rattenbury said by satellite telephone from the Arctic Sunrise, one of two Greenpeace ships harassing the whalers.
The International Whaling Commission imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, but Japan has continued hunting to carry out what it terms to be scientific research -- a claim rejected by critics.
The Greenpeace boats, with 57 activists on board, discovered the Japanese fleet of six vessels on Dec. 21 and immediately engaged in a high-risk strategy of physically trying to prevent the killing of whales.
Crew members in small inflatable boats put themselves between the harpooners and their targets, a tactic Rattenbury said they intend to repeat.
"Once they try and resume whaling our plan is to try and stop them in much the same way as we were when we found them just before Christmas, getting our small boats out there and getting between the harpoon and the whale," he said.
The initial jousting, which led to a minor collision between a Japanese whaler and a Greenpeace vessel, ended after a couple of days when the Japanese fleet took off at high speed.
Rattenbury said at the time that the Japanese were "on the run," while the Japanese whaling authority, the Institute of Cetacean Research, accused Greenpeace of breaching maritime safety laws and endangering lives.
Greenpeace's new ship the Esperanza, specially designed to keep up with the Japanese boats, gave chase for five days until the fleet made its refuelling rendezvous with a tanker at sea.
The Greenpeace boats were designed for long missions so "refueling is not a problem for us at this stage," Rattenbury said.
The Japanese fleet has killed at least 25 whales, but none since Dec. 24, Greenpeace said.