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NZ can't immediately help Sea Shepherd - PM

Published: 8:12AM Tuesday February 26, 2013 Source: ONE News

The Prime Minister has this morning called for "cool heads" to prevail as the battle between Sea Shepherd activists and Japanese whalers intensifies.

There are more claims and counter claims about dirty tactics between the two parties in the Southern Ocean, with both groups releasing new videos and photographs today of a collision in the Southern Ocean.

John Key said it is "very dangerous and treacherous waters".

"We can't provide immediate support if something goes potentially wrong there and we think cool heads should prevail."

He said New Zealand has made its view very clear in regards to whaling.

"We are not a party directly to the case that the Australians are bringing to the International Court of Justice, but we are participating in that process and my view would be that we'd like to see an end to whaling in the Southern Ocean".

Japanese whalers claim the images and video show anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd ramming their harpoon ship to prevent refuelling between the tanker and the Japanese whaling fleet's 8,000-tonne factory.

The Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), a Japanese group that runs the whaling programme, said in a release that on February 25 around 1200JST until about 1500JST during refuelling operations, the Nisshin Maru and her supply tanker were "again subject to sabotage by the Sea Shepherd ships Steve Irwin, Bob Barker and Sam Simon".

It said the Sea Shepherd's Bob Baker vessel collided with the Nisshin Maru and its fuel tanker ship at least five times, as the activist ships repeatedly forced their way between the Nisshin Maru and her supply tanker.

It said the Nisshin Maru used its water pump as a preventive measure to make the Sea Shepherd vessels refrain from further approaching and "repeatedly broadcast a warning message to stop them".

"However, in order to secure safety, the Nisshin Maru decided to interrupt her refuelling procedure due to the extremely dangerous and foolhardy behavior of Sea Shepherd vessels. The Sea Shepherd vessels perpetrated a similar obstructive attack on February 20."

No Japanese crew members were injured, ICR said, and the damage to the ships was yet unknown.

The ICR said allegations that there was oil spillage during the research vessels refuelling operations were unfounded.

The Sea Shepherd had a different account of the collision, saying the factory ship Nisshin Maru rammed Sea Shepherd's vessel Bob Barker twice on Monday afternoon, causing it to collide with the tanker Sun Laurel.

It uploaded their footage of the collision to YouTube with the description: "Bob Barker gets sandwiched, drenched and assaulted by flash grenades from the Whaling poachers and doesn't surrender!!"

Sea Shepherd said "a flash bang grenade" was thrown by the whalers.

The group says it was attempting to block a refuelling operation in the Australian Antarctic Territory, the same action that sparked a dangerous confrontation last week.

Sea Shepherd says a Japanese military icebreaker, the Shirase, has arrived to assist the whalers.

"The Nisshin Maru is attempting another illegal ... refuelling operation in Australia's Antarctic Territory, with a massive Japanese Naval Ship, the Shirase, available for backup," the group's Facebook site said.

Sea Shepherd says two of its ships, the Steve Irwin and Sam Simon, had their engine rooms flooded by water cannons and it has responded in kind.

"The Steve Irwin's water cannons have been engaged, the crew have been instructed not to aim them at any people on the poaching vessels," the group said.

The 12,500-tonne Shirase, which can carry 250 people and three helicopters, is operated by the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force tasked with the naval defence of the country.

Federal environment minister Tony Burke yesterday issued a please explain to Japan about the ship's role, suggesting it was exploiting a loophole by assisting the Korean tanker rather than the Japanese whalers directly.

Japan introduced scientific whaling to skirt a commercial whaling ban under a 1986 moratorium. It argues it has a right to monitor the impact of whales on its fishing industry.

- With AAP