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Shocked whaling protesters plan salvage of rammed boat

Thursday 7 Jan 2010 8:13 a.m.

Watch footage of the crash shot from Sea Shepherd's secret boat - the Bob Barker

While shocked crew members from the anti-whaling protest vessel Ady Gil come to terms with what they say was yesterday's terrifying ramming by a Japanese harpoon ship in Antarctic waters, thoughts are already turning to how the badly damaged boat can be salvaged.

Watch footage of the crash shot from the Japanese boat

Crew member Laurens de Groot told NZPA they were "just drifting", waiting for the Shonan Maru to pass by, when they were run down by the whaling ship.

Watch an interview with Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The impact of the collision sheared off the front of the Ady Gil - the former Earthrace high-tech speedboat which resembles a stealth bomber.

Despite such colossal damage to the vessel, Auckland cameraman Simeon Houtman was the only crewman injured. He has broken ribs.

The Ady Gil remained afloat, allowing the six crew members to salvage valuable equipment before being picked up by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessel Bob Barker.

Mr de Groot said the team was now working to salvage the multi-million protest boat, which is tied to the Bob Barker.

There were hopes that it could be towed to the French Antarctic base Dumont Durville where there was a supply ship equipped with a crane which could lift the Ady Gil aboard, Mr de Groot said.

Plans had not been finalised, but if they were given the go-ahead, it would take 36-48 hours to reach the base.

Current conditions and the forecast for the next few days were favourable, he said.

The clash was the most serious in the past several years, during which the Sea Shepherd organisation has sent vessels into far-southern waters to try to harass the Japanese fleet into ceasing its controversial annual whale hunt.

Clashes using hand-thrown stink bombs, ropes meant to tangle propellers and high-tech sound equipment have been common, and crashes between ships have sometimes occurred.

Both sides blame the other for yesterday's collision.

Mr de Groot said there was no doubt in the crew's mind that the Shonan Maru changed direction to target the Ady Gil.

"It came for the port side at full speed," he said.

"I think the captain was so pissed off with us (trailing him) that he wanted to come really close to maybe scare us off a bit but he's misjudged it and run right over us."

Glenn Inwood, a New Zealand-based spokesman for the Institute of Cetacean Research, the Japanese government-linked body that carries out the hunt, disputed the protesters' account, saying video shot from the whaler showed the conservationists' boat moving toward the whaler just before the collision.

"The Shonan Maru steams to port to avoid a collision. I guess they, the Ady Gil, miscalculated."

Mr Inwood said that Japan would continue to use its vessels to protect its crew in "whatever way it can".

The clashes were likely to continue until Sea Shepherd pulled out from its protest action, he said.

Ady Gil captain Peter Bethune said he and his crew risked their lives to stop the whaling programme.

"We just think it's wrong, what's happening here, and we're doing our best to put a stop to it," he told Radio New Zealand.

"I think what was demonstrated yesterday is that the Japanese whalers are just a bunch of thugs."

Each southern summer the Japanese whaling fleet travels to Antarctic waters for what it calls a scientific whaling programme. Conservationists and many countries say the programme is a front for commercial whaling and want it to stop.

The governments of Australia and New Zealand have urged both sides to show restraint.

NZPA

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