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Straight into battle: High-tech anti-whaling vessel clashes with Japanese fleet in freezing Southern Ocean

By Wil Longbottom

Activists fire stink bombs made from rotten butter and aim ropes at whaling ships' propellers and rudder

Japanese fleet retaliates with water cannon, acoustic weapons and stun grenades

Three Sea Shepherd vessels harrying whaling fleet as it carries out annual mission in Southern Ocean

Whalers forced to divert two harpoon ships to prevent high speed Gojira reaching 'factory' ship and halting operation

Anti-whaling campaigners have clashed with the Japanese fleet using a state-of-the art interceptor vessel as they bid to disrupt the annual hunting campaign.
Activists on board the �2.57million Gojira trimaran catapulted glass bottles at the Yushin Maru-2 and threw ropes aimed at its propeller in the second clash already this year.

Two ships belonging to campaign group Sea Shepherd have been pursuing Japanese whaling factory vessel the Nisshin Maru for the last six days after discovering the fleet on December 31.

Clash: High-tech Sea Shepherd vessel Gojira chases down Japanese whaling ship Yushin Maru 2 in the Southern Ocean

Clash: High-tech Sea Shepherd vessel Gojira chases down Japanese whaling ship Yushin Maru 2 in the Southern Ocean

Protest: The vessels run side by side as Sea Shepherd activists attempt to disrupt the annual Japanese whaling mission

Protest: The vessels run side by side as Sea Shepherd activists attempt to disrupt the annual Japanese whaling mission

Since then, the two fleets have covered more than a thousand miles as the whalers attempt to shake off their pursuers.

Confrontations have become increasingly hostile, with activists firing stink bombs made from rotten butter on to Japanese ships as well as trying to get ropes wrapped around the propellers and rudders.

Japanese ships have responded with water cannons, acoustic weapons and even stun grenades.

Sea Shepherd has managed to severely disrupt the annual whale hunt, where the Japanese fleet attempts to capture and kill more than 1,000 whales.

Mission: An activist prepares to fire a stink bomb made from rotten butter at one of the Japanese ships

Mission: An activist prepares to fire a stink bomb made from rotten butter at one of the Japanese ships

State-of-the-art: Gojira - which means Godzilla in Japanese - cost  2.57million and can reach 24 knots

State-of-the-art: Gojira - which means Godzilla in Japanese - cost �2.57million and can reach 24 knots

Retaliation: The crew on the Yushin Maru 2 fires it water cannon as the Sea Shepherd vessels close in

Retaliation: The crew on the Yushin Maru 2 fires it water cannon as the Sea Shepherd vessels close in

During both clashes, which took place on the International Date Line, harpoon vessels the Yushin Maru 2 and Yushin Maru 3 have been forced to break off whaling to chase away Sea Shepherd vessels the Steve Irwin and Bob Barker, limiting their ability to capture the animals.

The Gojira, which is far faster than any of the Japanese vessels, has been attempting to find the factory ship to stop the operation altogether.

Paul Watson, captain of the Steve Irwin, said: 'What we have down here in the Southern Ocean are seven ships, four on their side and three on ours, engaged in a cat and mouse pursuit over thousands of miles of remote and dangerous seas.

'We chase them. They chase us, but the important thing is that we are all running, wasting away the miles, and buying time for the whales.

'Every day they don't kill whales is a victory. We can sustain this running confrontation until the end of March, and the end of the whaling season if need be.'

Freezing: In the first clash between the two fleets, Sea Shepherd vessels chased the whalers through ice-filled waters

Freezing: In the first clash between the two fleets, Sea Shepherd vessels chased the whalers through ice-filled waters

Opposition: Activists have fired stink bombs at Japanese ships and thrown ropes at the propellers and rudder to stop the whaling taking place

Opposition: Activists have fired stink bombs at Japanese ships and thrown ropes at the propellers and rudder to stop the whaling taking place

Condemnation: Every year, Japanese whalers attempt to capture and kill more than 1,000 whales on the basis of 'research'

Condemnation: Every year, Japanese whalers attempt to capture and kill more than 1,000 whales on the basis of 'research'

Locky MacLean, captain of the new Gojira, described the clash as 'awesome'.
He said: 'Our three vessels dancing dangerously through the ice packs locked in confrontation with the three harpoon ships of the Japanese whaling fleet - it was both deadly and beautiful.

'Deadly because of the ice and the hostility of the whalers and beautiful because of the ice and that these three ships are not killing whales while clashing with us.'

The Institute of Cetacean Research in Japan, which organises the whaling mission, has condemned the clashes and reiterated that its mission is legal.
Anti-whaling nations, including Australia and New Zealand, have long criticised Japan for the whale hunts, describing them as cruel and unnecessary.
Activists also argue that Japanese demand for whale meat has fallen significantly in recent decades.

Japan kills hundreds of whales a year under a loophole in the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling that allows 'lethal research'.

Western opposition to the practice has also fuelled public opposition in Japan to the anti-whaling movement.

Last year, Sea Shepherd's high-tech Ady Gil vessel had its bow sheared off after a collision with Japanese whaler Shonan Maru.

The crew were held in Japan for several days after the clash as Japan reacted furiously to the campaign against its whaling operations.

Fast attack: The Gojira replaces the Ady Gil, which was damaged in similar clashes last year

Fast attack: The Gojira replaces the Ady Gil, which was damaged in similar clashes last year

Protest: Activists hold ropes as they approach one of the Japanese ships to throw them at the propellers

Protest: Activists hold ropes as they approach one of the Japanese ships to throw them at the propellers

Damage: The Ady Gil lost around 10ft of its bow after a collision with the Shonan Maru last year

Damage: The Ady Gil lost around 10ft of its bow after a collision with the Shonan Maru last year

See video of Gojira arriving in Australia for refitting work


 


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