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Anti-whaling ship in Australia, plans return to Antarctica
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Anti-whaling activists seeking to disrupt Japanese whaling around Antarctica said Saturday their ship had docked in Tasmania and should head back to the Southern Ocean next week.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society temporarily called off its operations earlier this month after its flagship the "Steve Irwin" ran low on fuel, and refused to divulge where it was heading.
However, founder Paul Watson told Reuters on that it had arrived in Hobart, capital of Australia's southern island state of Tasmania, where it was docked. It should refuel by Tuesday and head back to the ocean either Tuesday or Wednesday, he said.
Australia's whaling-opposed government had earlier rejected Japanese requests to disallow the vessel to dock and said it would allow the "Steve Irwin" to re-supply at an Australian port before returning to the Southern Ocean.
Plans are for the ship to remain in Antarctic waters until March, when Japan's annual whale hunt is due to finish, Watson said.
Supporters turned out to welcome the ship, he said, including Australian Greens leader Bob Brown, who recently played a role in preventing a damaged Japanese whaling ship the Yushin Maru 2 stopping in Indonesia for repairs.
"We are in Hobart," Watson said by telephone. "We have to wait to get fuel."
Watson said Sea Shepherd had a "lot of support" in Australia and expected a successful operation this year, claiming to have already "knocked out" one Japanese harpoon vessel.
Japan's whaling fleet is in the Antarctic region for an annual hunt 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.
Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research, which runs the annual hunt, has accused Sea Shepherd of "eco-terrorism," and of ramming and endangering Japanese vessels, allegations Watson rejects.
The institute also says the waters its fleet operates in are international waters, although Australia has declared much of the area part of an exclusive economic zone around its vast Antarctic territories.
(Editing by Valerie Lee)
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