A collision between a Japanese whaler and an anti-whaling protest ship in frigid Antarctic waters has sparked renewed calls for the New Zealand and Australian governments to block the Steve Irwin from refuelling in the two countries.
The Sea Shepherd conservation group ship Steve Irwin was trying to prevent the transfer of a dead whale up the slipway of the factory ship Nisshin Maru this morning, when the Japanese harpoon vessel tried
to block it, making the collision unavoidable, said Steve Irwin Captain Paul Watson.
No one was injured in the collision, which caused minor damage to the stern of the Japanese ship, the hardline anti-whaling group said.
But Japanese authorities said it was an "act of violence and unforgivable".
"It could have been much worse - people could have been killed," New Zealand based spokesman for the Institute of Cetacean Research Glen Inwood said.
Japan repeated a call for the two governments to show responsibility for safety at sea and block the Dutch ship from ports in Australasia, he said.
Mr Inwood said the Steven Irwin would run out of fuel shortly and have to head back to either New Zealand or Australia to restock, while the six Japanese vessels had enough supplies to spend another six weeks at sea.
The Netherlands government should also order the Dutch-flagged Steve Irwin to stop its criminal activities interfering with legal whaling operations, Mr Inwood said.
The annual Japanese whale hunt is aimed at catching about 900 whales.
Although Japan officially stopped whaling under a 1986 global moratorium, it continues to take hundreds of whales under a loophole allowing whaling for research purposes.
Much of the meat ends up on supermarket shelves and dinner tables.
Mr Inwood said the Japanese had not yet released figures on how many whales had been killed in this season's whaling mission, or how many whales the Steve Irwin might have saved from their "lethal research".
After the ramming, crew from the Steve Irwin threw bottles containing butyric acid (produced by rancid butter) at the Yushin Maru No. 2 and the Nisshin Maru.
Most of the bottles just ended up in the Antarctic waters, according to the whalers.
The crew aboard the Steve Irwin had also attempted to entangle the propellers of Japanese vessels, which could potentially pull the propeller shaft out and sink the ship.
Capt Watson said the Japanese responded by blasting his crew with a water cannon, hunks of metal and a "military grade" noise weapon that can cause deafness and vomiting.
The protesters set off from Australia in early December for the remote and icy Antarctic Ocean, chasing the whaling fleet before stopping two weeks ago in Tasmania to refuel.
The group found the whalers again on Sunday and resumed their pursuit.