Whalers launch 'grenades' at Sea Shepherd
RAW VISION: Sea Shepherd say this vision shows the Nisshin Maru launching 'exploding concussion grenades' and ramming their ships last week.PT0M50S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2f18y 620 349 February 25, 2013
Renewed conflict is said to have broken out in the Antarctic as Japanese whalers again try to break a conservationist blockade and refuel their factory ship Nisshin Maru.
After three Sea Shepherd ships moved in to cut access to the tanker Sun Laurel on Monday, the group's founder Paul Watson said they came under attack.
The Nisshin Maru and its three harpoon ships were taking on the Sea Shepherd vessels Bob Barker, Steve Irwin and Sam Simon, Mr Watson said.
"The Nisshin Maru has rammed the Bob Barker and pushed it into the side of the Sun Laurel," he said.
"Concussion grenades are being deployed against the Bob Barker, and near the tanker. It's a very intense situation."
Earlier the big Japanese military icebreaker Shirase approached the scene in Mackenzie Bay, near the coast of the Australian Antarctic Territory, and a helicopter from this ship flew escort over the Sun Laurel, Sea Shepherd said.
Shirase was detected on Sea Shepherd radar by its ship's automatic identification signal, and at last report was within 12.5 nautical miles of the action.
The 12,500 tonne Shirase, operated by the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force, can carry up to 250 people and three helicopters.
Mr Watson said he was concerned the Shirase, its aircraft and personnel could be used against Sea Shepherd.
It was scheduled to be in the region conducting Antarctic marine scientific work off nearby Cape Darnley, an informed Australian source said. The ship was due to be working on ocean moorings, which are used to collect oceanographic data.
Asked whether the appearance of Shirase meant it would be used in the conflict, representing an escalation of the situation Japan's consul-general in Melbourne, Hidenobu Sobashima, said: "there are no such facts as alleged."
Mr Sobashima added: "We are not in a position to make a statement on the movement of the ships."
The Australian Government has been approached for comment.
A blockade by Sea Shepherd stopped the Nisshin Maru from reaching the tanker Sun Laurel last week.
Instead the whalers' mother ship was involved in a series of dramatic collisions, with the three Sea Shepherd vessels, and with the Sun Laurel.
The collisions raised fears of injury, or a fuel spill in pristine Antarctic waters far from aid.
After they parted, the Sun Laurel headed north and out of the sea ice zone, while the Nisshin Maru stayed in the same region, while Japan denied that its whaling program had been called off.
According to Mr Watson, after spending several days north of the sea ice, the Sun Laurel turned south, and early on Monday was approaching Nisshin Maru.
He said that followed by the Sam Simon, it steamed through iceberg strewn waters in darkness at around 12 knots without a spotlight to show the way.