MELBOURNE, Australia, February 25, 2014 (ENS) – What has become an annual battle between the Japanese whaling fleet and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society over the taking of whales by the Japanese in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary erupted again on Sunday night.

Sea Shepherd Autralia officials and ship captains say the Japanese whaling fleet launched a six-hour night attack on the Sea Shepherd conservation ship, the Bob Barker on Sunday night.

The Tokyo-based Institute of Cetacean Research, which manages the Japanese “research” whaling program, counters with claims that the Japanese vessels were “subject to sabotage by the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker.”

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Just before nightfall, Harpoon vessel crosses the bow of the Bob Barker at close range, Feb. 23, 2014 (Photo by Simon Agar courtesy Sea Shepherd Australia)

Sea Shepherd claims the attack on the Bob Barker was “unprovoked,” and says, “The assault was an attempt to deter The Bob Barker from blocking the slipway of the Nisshin Maru, where it was preventing the whalers’ ability to load whales poached from the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.”

“In an attempt to disable the conservation ship’s propellers and rudders, the harpoon ships Yushin Maru and Yushin Maru No. 3 crossed the bow of the Bob Barker a total of 33 times at close range during the assault, dragging 250-meter and 150-meter steel cables across the bow of the Bob Barker,” Sea Shepherd Australia said in a statement.

The factory whaling ship Nisshin Maru was located early on Sunday morning for the third time this season by a Sea Shepherd helicopter. The whaling vessels delayed an attack on the Bob Barker until Sunday night, launching their onslaught on the conservation vessel under the cover of darkness.

The Bob Barker was sailing six nautical miles behind the Japanese factory whaling vessel Nisshin Maru at 73° 08’ S 175° 33’ E when the attack began.

Captain Peter Hammarstedt of the Bob Barker reports, “I radioed the harpoon ships to let them know that our operations are completely lawful and that any aggressive action on their part would be reported to the Australian government and New Zealand Search and Rescue, and that Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt had been contacted.”

“I have nine Australians and one New Zealander on board as part of my brave crew who have endured this ruthless assault,” said Hammarstedt. “We maintain unwavering dedication in the face of an increasingly vicious onslaught from the poachers, the last line of defense standing between these criminals and the protected whales they are targeting to kill.”

The harpoon ships crossed the bow of the Bob Barker 15 times from port to starboard during the attack in violation of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, said Hammarstedt.

The whaling fleet’s crew threw ice at the crew of the Bob Barker small boats, which were launched to defend the conservation ship from the onslaught, he said.

The whalers also blinded those on the bridge of the Bob Barker with powerful searchlights, impairing vision and endangering navigation.

The Bob Barker is currently within close range of the Yushin Maru and the Yushin Maru No. 3, and can confirm that the two harpoon vessels are unable to whale.

Since locating the Japanese factory whaler Nisshin Maru early Sunday morning, the Sea Shepherd fleet was able to chase the factory vessel out of the Ross Sea. At 0100 AEDT, the Nisshin Maru was lost from the Bob Barker’s radar.

The Bob Barker’s small boat launches defence during night attack from harpoon vessels, Feb. 23, 2014 (Photo by Simon Agar courtesy Sea Shepherd)

The Bob Barker’s small boat and harpoon vessel, Feb. 23, 2014 (Photo by Simon Agar courtesy Sea Shepherd)

The other two ships in the Sea Shepherd fleet, the Steve Irwin and the Sam Simon, are not being pursued and are shadowing the Nisshin Maru.

The Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research, ICR, confirms the time that the incident took place, from 7:30 pm to midnight local time on February 23, but claims that its ships were attacked by the conservation vessel Bob Barker.

“During the Sea Shepherd attack two rigid inflatable boats sent from the Bob Barker came to the YS1 [Yushin Maru] and YS3 [Yushin Maru No. 3] deployed each more than a dozen wire-entwined ropes fitted with heavy metal weights just in front to the bow of each of the YS1 and YS3.”

“At least one of the ropes deployed by the activists entangled to the YS1 propeller and at least another one entangled to the YS3 propeller. Also, the rudder plate of the YS3 suffered damage due to contact with the heavy metal weights fitted to the entangled rope,” the Japanese institute said in a statement.

The institute also says the Bob Barker fired a total of 13 flares at the two whaling vessels. “There were neither injuries to the Japanese crews or damage to both vessels from the BB’s attack,” says the institute.

Hammarstedt said this is the second time in February that the conservation group’s ships have been attacked by the Japanese whaling fleet.

On February 2, the Bob Barker was struck by the Yushin Maru No. 3 in a nine-hour attack on the Sea Shepherd ships, during which the harpoon ships crossed the bows of the Sea Shepherd vessels a total of 86 times, said Hammarstedt.

Sea Shepherd Australia has taken over Southern Ocean whale defense campaigns since the Institute of Conservation Research obtained an injunction in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2012 prohibiting the U.S. Sea Shepherd branch from appoaching closer than 500 yards to the Japanese vessels.

Both sides claim their activities are perfectly legal.

In December 2013, the Australian government committed to sending an aircraft to monitor this year’s whaling operations.

Earlier this month, New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully indicated the possibility of “relationship consequences” between New Zealand and Japan as the result of an incursion into New Zealand waters by the Japanese whaling fleet’s security vessel, the Shonan Maru No. 2.

Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, said, “The Bob Barker is in the Southern Ocean to defend the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary from the illegal Japanese whalers. Both Australia and New Zealand are parties to the sanctuary. Both the Australian and New Zealand governments have legally challenged the Japanese whaling operations at the International Court of Justice. So where are these governments now, when their citizens and the sanctuary are under attack from these poachers?”

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