The whaling fleet abandoned an attempt to refuel from a tanker yesterday when Sea Shepherd vessels intervened.
The conservation activist group says three of its boats were then rammed by the Japanese ship Nisshin Maru.
Sea Shepherd says the whaling vessels were acting illegally by refuelling in an area below 60 degrees south, an activity prohibited by an Antarctic treaty.
“The ICR (Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research) has announced a temporary halt in their whaling operations, which over the last few years usually means they’re ending it for the season,” Captain Watson told AAP from the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin.
An ICR spokesman could not confirm the hunt had been halted but said refuelling had been suspended.
The Japanese organisation, which co-ordinates the annual hunt, was yet to comment further.
Captain Watson said he expected the Korean tanker Sun Laurel to refuel the Japanese vessels around 300 nautical miles further north.
But, with 18 days left in the whaling season, he said it was unlikely the fleet would then head south again.
“I feel that this is the end of it,” he said.
Captain Watson rejected a Japanese suggestion his vessels had provoked the dangerous confrontation on Wednesday.
“Their argument is that we hit their fist with our face,” he said.
“It was more like a case of road rage.”
He said court action was unlikely after attempts to seek compensation for the sinking of the Ady Gil in 2010 had failed.
Sea Shepherd estimates only 12 whales were caught this season, which put in doubt the future of the annual hunt.
Captain Watson said, if it continued, Australia should send a vessel to keep the peace, even if it was successful in having whaling outlawed in action being taken at the International Court of Justice.
“I think the Japanese will just ignore the court,” Captain Watson said.
“Then I would hope that Australia would send a vessel down to enforce that ruling.”
The federal government has ruled out sending a navy ship to Antarctic waters.
“It’s not something that we try to settle in a carpark, we settle it in a court,” Environment Minister Tony Burke told Sky News today.
Mr Burke said that asserting territorial claim by force undermined the Antarctic treaty system and threatened conservation efforts.
The government will continue to fight its case against Japan’s “flagrant violation” of anti-whaling laws in the International Court of Justice.
Former Greens leader Bob Brown, now director of Sea Shepherd Australia, said this amounted to getting rid of the police force and relying solely on courts to deal with crime.
“You need a policing operation down there,” he told Sky News.
“As it is, we’ve got a buccaneer country, the Japanese government, trespassing all over those laws, treading them into the ground.”
Sending the navy would escalate the situation, but he warned the clashes between whalers and protesters would get “much worse” if the government didn’t find a way of policing the rules.
Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said the government had no excuse for not sending a Customs vessel to monitor activities in Australia’s territorial waters.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said those calling for the navy to patrol the southern waters never answered how Australia would have the authority or powers to do so.
“When did we become the nation that apparently has got the capacity to police every ocean in the world?” she said to reporters in Adelaide.Source: AAP – “Sea Shepherd says Southern Ocean whale-hunting to be cut short”
- Whaling season over – Sea Shepherd (bigpondnews.com)
- Japan halts whale hunt after Sea Shepherd clashes (abc.net.au)
- Dolphins are victims of Australia’s most environmentally controversial project at Gladstone (craighill.net)