Conservationists say they have again disrupted Japanese whaling, finding the factory ship Nisshin Maru after a lengthy search in the Antarctic.
The Japanese fleet was located by the Sea Shepherd activists early on Sunday deep in the Ross Sea, where the Nisshin Maru was processing whales, the group said.
It was spotted by a helicopter flown from the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin, which was preparing to intercept the whalers, according to a statement.
Since being seen by Sea Shepherd, all three Japanese harpoon ships had moved into formation at the stern of Nisshin Maru, and were attempting to steam away.
“For the third time this year, the Steve Irwin’s helicopter has achieved our aim of locating the Nisshin Maru, despite their best efforts to evade accountability for their flagrant disregard of international law," said the Steve Irwin's captain, Siddharth Chakravarty.
The group said its other ships, the Sam Simon and Bob Barker were within interception range of the Nisshin Maru and were closing in on the factory vessel.
The encounter comes three weeks after Sea Shepherd lost the Nisshin Maru in a clash in which the harpoon ships trailed cables to keep the activists away from the factory ship, and one Japanese vessel collided heavily with the Bob Barker.
Sea Shepherd activists in small boats responded then by trailing their own cables, but failed to keep contact with Nisshin Maru, which has been able to continue whaling despite recent severe weather conditions.
The Japanese government is yet to comment on the latest encounter in the long conflict over Antarctic whaling, as its fleet seeks to take up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales.
The Fisheries Agency of Japan said after the last clash: "The sabotage activities of the Sea Shepherd are acts of extreme danger which threaten the safety of Japanese research vessels and lives of their crew."