Whale protest ships collide

Anti-whaling activists say one of their vessels and a Japanese whaling ship have collided near the Ross Sea, sparking a distress call from the Japanese crew.

A statement from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said the whaling vessel, the Kaiko Maru, issued the distress call, which the group had acknowledged, about 5.20pm (3.20pm AEDT) today.

Sea Shepherd leader Captain Paul Watson said the confrontation occurred when the conservation group’s vessels, the Robert Hunter and the Farley Mowat, caught the Japanese ship bearing down on a pod of whales.

“At one point the Kaiko Maru turned to starboard and struck the Robert Hunter,” Sea Shepherd said in a statement.

“The Kaiko Maru has issued a distress signal. We have acknowledged this distress signal but they refuse to say what distress they are in.”

A spokesman for the Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand said a distress call had recently been logged from a Japanese vessel.

“There has been an incident we understand down there. There has been a call,” the spokesman said.

He said authorities were still trying to ascertain what had occurred.

Sea Shepherd activists have been facing off against the whalers north of the Balleny Islands, west of the Ross Sea, trying to stop Japan’s controversial annual whale hunt.

Watson told AAP that about 4pm (1400 AEDT), Sea Shepherd ships were in a confrontation with the Kaiko Maru.

He blamed Japanese vessel for the subsequent collision, saying the whaling ship had backed up on the group’s vessel, the Robert Hunter.

The Robert Hunter had earlier tried to force the whaling vessel into a part of the sea heavy with ice, in an attempt to stop the hunt, Watson said.

“They were going after some whales, we moved in and they moved away,” he said.

“(Then) they backed up and hit the Robert Hunter, causing a rip in the hull.”

He said the hole was about 30cm in diameter, but he did not believe it was large enough to sink the Robert Hunter.

“Of course when they ram us, people say ‘you shouldn’t have been there’. It’s a total double standard,” Watson said.

A spokesman for the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research was unavailable for comment.