SYDNEY — A boat carrying a group of radical anti-whaling activists collided with a Japanese whaling vessel in the Antarctic Ocean on Friday in a clash Japan condemned as "unforgivable." No one was injured.
Activist Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said his boat was trying to prevent a Japanese ship from dragging a whale on board when another Japanese boat shot in front of Watson's vessel, causing a collision.
"The situation down here is getting very, very chaotic and very aggressive," Watson told The Associated Press by satellite phone from his boat, named after the late Australian conservationist and TV personality, Steve Irwin.
In a statement, the Institute of Cetacean Research — the Japanese government-affiliated organization that oversees the hunt — condemned the protesters' actions, characterizing the collision as a "deliberate ramming" that occurred while the Japanese were trying to load a whale on board one of their ships.
Shigeki Takaya, a Fisheries Agency spokesman for whaling in Japan, called the incident "appalling and unforgivable."
"We will ask concerning countries, including Australia, to immediately stop them from carrying out such horrendous acts," Takaya said.
Japan plans to harvest up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales this season. Under International Whaling Commission rules, the mammals may be killed for research but not for commercial purposes. Opponents say the Japanese research expeditions are simply a cover for commercial whaling, which was banned in 1986.
Chiharu Tsuruoka, a Foreign Ministry official in Japan, called Friday's incident between Japan's whalers and the Dutch-registered Steve Irwin "extremely unforgivable."
"We have repeatedly asked the Dutch government to stop them from harassing us, but so far it's been so unsuccessful," Tsuruoka said.
The protesters set off from Australia in early December for the remote and icy Antarctic Ocean, chasing the whaling fleet for about 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) before stopping two weeks ago in Tasmania to refuel. The group found the whalers again on Sunday and resumed their pursuit.