Activists plan to confront whalers in Japanese waters

Sea Shepherd activists are planning to take their anti-whaling campaign to Japan's doorstep for the first time.

The group's ships will head north from Sydney and Melbourne within days, in what they say is a bid to engage the whaling fleet in its home waters.

''The plan is for our fleet to be meeting their fleet in the North Pacific off Japan,'' the group's deputy leader Peter Hammarstedt told Fairfax. ''We are planning to take the battle pretty much up to Japan itself.''

This year the four-ship Sea Shepherd fleet will be crewed by 110 people, including dozens of Australians. If their vessels reach Japanese waters, they may face the might of the 12,000 member Japan Coast Guard, and its hundreds of ships.

''The goal for us is to have a zero-kill quota of whales,'' Mr Hammarstedt said. ''If we can get to the Japanese fleet early, hopefully they will cut their losses.''

At Japan's request Interpol has issued a Red Notice, or wanted persons alert, for the hardline conservation group's leader Paul Watson, on charges of hooliganism, vandalism and damage.


Watson's whereabouts are undisclosed three months after he skipped bail in Germany, narrowly evading a Japanese government extradition request.

The location of the group's new fourth ship, the Sam Simon, is also a secret. Watson said in a web posting it would be deployed in the Southern Ocean to await the whalers in the event that they eluded the other Sea Shepherd ships.

''We have never been stronger and the Japanese whalers have never been weaker,'' he said. ''We need to take advantage of our strengths and their weaknesses and we need to bring this campaign home - to Japan,'' he said.

Mr Hammarstedt said it was expected Watson would appear in command of one of the vessels when the action began.

''Our hope is that the first time the Sam Simon comes into view is on the slipway of [Japan's whaling flagship] the Nisshin Maru,'' he said.

The Japanese factory ship is currently in dry dock, according to Mr Hammarstedt, and he expects the whalers to leave for the Antarctic later than their usual mid-November departure date.

The Nisshin Maru is undergoing the first stage of what the Japanese fisheries newspaper, Suisan Keizai Shimbun, said was a $24 million refit to incorporate energy-saving measures and improve the crew's working environment.

Speculation that the work might force the fleet to suspend the annual hunt was dismissed last month by the Fisheries Agency of Japan. Its official in charge of whaling, Tatsuya Nakaoku, said ''there is no possibility'' Japan will miss the voyage this year.

Only once before has another anti-whaling group approached Japanese home waters.

In 2007 the Greenpeace ship Esperanza tried to surprise Nisshin Maru in the Sea of Japan. With the aid of the Coast Guard, the factory ship evaded Esperanza at night.

Mr Hammarstedt said Sea Shepherd's several ships, equipped with a long-range helicopter and surveillance drones, stood a much better chance of keeping track of the whalers.

First to head north will be the anti-whaling flagship Steve Irwin, which will leave Melbourne on November 5.

Mr Hammarstedt said he would take the long-range Bob Barker out of Sydney on November 9, and it will be joined by the fast interceptor, Brigitte Bardot.