Japanese whalers clash with activists in Antarctic
Vail, CO Colorado
TOKYO ” The Japanese coast guard said Friday that anti-whaling activists threw rotten butter and other objects at a Japanese whale-processing ship, the latest high seas clash over the country’s annual hunt.
The coast guard said its officers aboard the vessel responded by tossing “warning balls.” Australia’s foreign minister described the devices as “flash bangs,” or stun grenades.
The leader of the Sea Shepherd anti-whaling group said that he had been shot at during the confrontation with the whaling vessel, the Nisshin Maru, and was saved by his bulletproof vest. The group released a photo of him holding what appeared to be a spent slug.
Japan denied shots had been fired. It was impossible to verify either side’s account of the clash, which occurred some 1,800 miles south-southwest of Melbourne, Australia, in the Antarctic Ocean, according to the coast guard.
The clash began when activists aboard the Sea Shepherd ship threw objects at the Nisshin Maru, according to the Japanese. The objects included more than 10 paper bags of white powder, several bottles containing what was believed to be rotten butter and several bottles containing an unidentified white liquid, according to Hideki Moronuki, chief of the Japanese Fishing Agency’s whaling section.
The Nisshin Maru issued warnings by radio for those aboard the Sea Shepherd to stop. But the protesters didn’t, and the Nisshin Maru, which has coast guard escorts on board, responded by lobbing seven “warning balls” at the Sea Shepherd, Moronuki said.
Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson said the clash was more serious.
“I felt an impact on my chest at one point,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “I didn’t think too much of it at the time. When I opened up my Mustang survival suit, and I have a Kevlar bulletproof vest, there was a bullet lodged in.”
He said that the activists were “doing what we usually do, which was putting stink bombs on the deck.”
Japanese authorities denied firing any shots, although Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Japan had informed Australian diplomats in Tokyo that a crew member had fired warning shots.
Smith said Japanese officials had subsequently advised Australian diplomats that no gunshots were fired but that three “warning balls” had been thrown. He said warning balls were also known as “flash bangs.”
Moronuki denied that shots were fired.
Japan kills about 1,000 whales every year under what it calls a scientific research program. Sea Shepherd and other anti-whaling groups have repeatedly harassed the Japanese whaling fleet to interfere with the hunt.
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