Environmentalists have again clashed with Japanese whalers in Antarctic waters, with Greenpeace activists
failing in a risky attempt to prevent the refuelling of the fleet's factory ship.
The Australian government ship Oceanic Viking arrived in the Southern Ocean only hours after the altercation.
The protesters today piloted an inflatable boat between the Nisshin Maru and supply ship the Oriental Bluebird during the operation, a spokesman on board the Greenpeace ship Esperanza said.
“They've gone ahead with refuelling now – it was too dangerous for us to continue blocking them because they were pushing their two ships together, which was quite a dangerous manoeuvre with people sitting between on a boat,” Greenpeace spokesman Dave Walsh told the ABC.
“So they are refuelling at this point and if they move on again, we'll be with them and if they try whaling again, we'll be there to stop them.”
Photos released by Greenpeace showed crew of the two whaling ships directing water hoses at the tiny inflatable as it navigated the narrow gap between them.
After delaying the refuelling, the Greenpeace activists went back to documenting whale meat being transferred into the Oriental Bluebird.
But they were harassed by Japanese vessels for more than an hour and were pushed away from the ships, a Greenpeace spokesman said.Shortly afterwards the Australian ship Oceanic Viking was spotted on the horizon and at 7pm (AEDT) it was close to the Esperanza and Japan's whaling fleet.
Mr Walsh said the refuelling was occurring south of the 60-degree line in the Southern Ocean in breach of the Antarctic Treaty, which contains a 1998 protocol to protect the environment.
Greenpeace also says the Panamanian-registered Oriental Bluebird does not have a Japanese government permit to be a part of the whaling fleet.
The Esperanza radioed a statement to the Bluebird calling on the vessel to leave Antarctic waters and was told to keep clear, Mr Walsh said.
He said two of the fleet's three catcher boats were also in the vicinity.
The Esperanza has been shadowing for the past 11 days the Nisshin Maru, which has rejoined the rest of the fleet in the wake of last week's international incident between protesters and whalers.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society says its ship the Steve Irwin – which had two crew detained and eventually returned after they boarded a Japanese harpoon boat – is about a day's sail from the whalers.
Steve Irwin captain Paul Irwin estimated the refuelling of the Nisshin Maru would take about six or seven hours, allowing his ship to narrow the gap.
“Either way it's a win-win situation. If they're running, they can't whale. If they stop, we'll engage them,” Capt Watson said.
The Japanese fleet is thought to have suspended whaling until the protest ships, which are unable to refuel, are forced to return to port.
“We're good for another couple of weeks and that's seriously cutting into their time,” Captain Watson said.
“Two weeks they've lost already. I think they're not going to get their quota because of those two weeks.
The Japanese fleet has a quota to kill 935 minkes and 50 fin whales during its so-called scientific whaling hunt over the summer.
Captain Watson says the Steve Irwin is being followed by another large drag trawler called the Fukuyoshi Maru No 68, which he claims is monitoring the Sea Shepherd ship's movements.