Protesters, whalers fight over use of illegal weapons

Compiled From Kyodo, AP

The hardline antiwhaling group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on Monday accused Japanese whalers of using illegal weapons systems to repel its vessel as it pursues the fleet in the Antarctic Ocean.

An official at the fishery agency in Tokyo immediately denied the allegation, saying the whaling ships are not equipped with any of the weapons alleged by the group.

The agency also said that crew on two rubber dinghies from the Steve Irwin, Sea Shepherd’s flag vessel, threw bottles of dye at the whaling fleet in an apparent attempt to disrupt their activities.

The agency said nobody was injured in the incident and no damage was caused to the ships of the whaling fleet.

The U.S.-based antiwhaling organization said the whalers used a number of measures in their assault, with some Steve Irwin crew members sustaining injuries during the attacks.

“The whalers are deploying water cannons, concussion grenades, acoustic weapons and throwing solid brass and lead balls at Sea Shepherd crew members,” the group’s founder, Paul Watson, said.

High-frequency sound waves emitted from a long-range acoustic device can cause disorientation and nausea.

Watson said some of his crew had felt vibrations but were too far away to be otherwise affected.

He added that one of his crew members was injured when blasted with high pressure water cannons, while a second activist was struck in the face by a metal ball.

“If we were to do any of the things these thugs are doing, we would be denounced as eco-terrorists,” Watson said.

He added the use of military-grade weapons systems in the Antarctic Treaty Zone is in violation of international law.

Hironori Masuyama, chief of the fishery agency’s whaling section, told The Japan Times that none of the three ships of the Nisshin Maru fleet has any of the weapons alleged by the group.

Masuyama did admit that the fleet “discharged water” to keep Sea Shepherd crew away from the ships but claimed that the water pressure was not strong enough to cause injuries. He also denied that “solid brass and lead balls” were thrown at the activists.

“We have received no reports of any injuries from the Japanese side,” he said. “We have no idea where that report (of injuries) came from.”

Protesters aboard the ship set off from Australia in early December for the remote and icy Antarctic Ocean, chasing the whaling fleet for about 3,200 km before returning two weeks ago to Tasmania to refuel. After taking up their pursuit once more, the group found the whalers Sunday.

In December, the protesters lobbed bottles of rancid butter at the whalers.