SYDNEY Dec 25 Hardline whaling opponents
attempting to stop Japan's annual whale hunt in the Antarctic
said on Sunday they had intercepted and photographed its whaling
fleet using pilotless drone aircraft.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said it located the
Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru off Australia's western coast
on Saturday using the drones, the first time this season it has
made contact with the whalers.
However, other Japanese ships shielded the vessel "to allow
it to escape", Sea Shepherd said in a statement.
"We caught them due west of Perth," founder Paul Watson told
Reuters by satellite phone from the ship Steve Irwin. "For the
next few days we will be chasing them. We are heading south."
The two drones are equipped with cameras and detection
equipment and allow Sea Shepherd to monitor the whaling fleet
from a distance, he said.
Watson said Sea Shepherd's three ships were well outside
Antarctic waters when the Japanese vessel was seen. The Sea
Shepherd waited for the Nisshin Maru after hearing from
fishermen it had sailed through the Lombok Strait in Indonesia
on its voyage to Antarctic waters.
The Sea Shepherd society's annual attempts to stop the
Japanese whale hunt by "direct action" have been widely
criticised by other environmentalists and governments,
particularly Japan. However, it also has influential supporters.
Watson said sympathisers in New Jersey in the United States
contributed to the cost of the two drones.
An international moratorium on whaling has been in place
since 1986, but Japan exploits a loophole allowing whaling for
scientific purposes to justify its annual hunt.
(Reporting by Chris McCall; Editing by Paul Tait)