Whaling conservation organization, Sea Shepherd, has accused Japan of bringing a military style ship to the conflict in waters off Antarctica.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports the Japanese military ice breaker, Shirase, approached Mackenzie Bay in Australian Antarctic Territory, far south-west of Perth, where Sea Shepherd ships — the Bob Barker and Sam Simon — and whaling ships, the Nisshin Maru and Korean tanker, Sun Laurel — were engaged in an intensifying conflict.
According to the AAP, the Sea Shepherd claims the factory ship, Nisshin Maru, hit Bob Barker twice on Monday afternoon, causing the vessel to collide with the Sun Laurel tanker. The Sydney Morning Herald records Sea Shepherd captain Paul Watson saying, “Concussion grenades are being deployed against the Bob Barker, and near the tanker. They have made another run, ramming the Sam Simon in the port quarter. It’s a very intense situation.”
Australian Environment minister, Tony Burke has asked Japan to confirm if the Shirase is connected to the whaling fleet. Mr. Burke said, ”Japan has told the government that the Shirase is not involved in supporting their so-called scientific whaling fleet.”
Meanwhile, ABC News reports the Japanese whaling body, The Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), has accused Sea Shepherd of ramming the Nisshin Maru while it was trying to refuel, calling the act “malicious and unacceptable.” Video footage from the ICR does indicate a Sea Shepherd ship may have hit a whaling vessel. The Australian reports that, due to the conflict, Japan has called a temporary suspension of their whaling operations. Sea Shepherd activists are celebrating this as a victory that may mean a shortened whaling season. Sea Shepherd manager, Simon Ager told The Mercury that while the Japanese operations had paused, “…it does not look like they are going anyway but instead deciding their next move,” he said.
If the Shirase remains in Antarctic waters with intention to engage in conflict, Mr. Watson says it is at risk of violating the Antarctica Treaty. The Treaty states Antarctica and its outlying areas are only to be used for peaceful purposes and prohibits any military activity. Japan’s consul-general in Melbourne, Hidenobu Sobashima, has denied the Shirase is intended for use in the intensifying conflict between whaling and conservationist vessels.