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Japanese whalers destroy 'Whale Wars' group's new powerboat

By Christopher Rocchio, 01/06/2010 

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's latest efforts to stop Japanese ships from hunting whales took a dangerous turn on Wednesday.

The Ady Gil -- a new 78-foot trimaran-hulled powerboat being used by the society, the efforts of which are documented on Animal Planet's Whale Wars reality series -- collided with the Japanese whaling ship the Shonan Maru near Antarctica's Commonwealth Bay, The Associated Press reported.

While approximately 10 feet of the Ady Gil's bow was knocked off due to the collision, all six crew members aboard it were safely rescued, according to The AP, which added first mate Locky Maclean appeared to have suffered two cracked ribs.

Video footage of the incident taken from the Shonan Maru was subsequently released by the Institute of Cetacean Research (IRC), the Japanese government-linked body that carries out the hunt.

Similiar to many of their previous clashes, the two groups are currently at odds over who was at fault for the collision.

"They were stopped dead in the water when the incident occurred," Maclean told The AP.

"When they realized that the Shonan Maru was aiming right for them, they tried to go into reverse to get the bow out of the way but it was too late. The Shonan Maru made a course correction and plowed directly into the front end of the boat."

Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson reiterated Maclean's firsthand account and said the incident could have been deadly.

"It was aiming at the crew's command quarters, which would have certainly killed somebody," Watson told The AP.

"But Peter Bethune, he's the captain, put the ship in reverse and was pulling back. He saved his crew, but it cut the ship in half."

IRC spokesman Glenn Inwood said the video shows that the Ady Gil was moving toward the Shonan Maru just before the collision and not reversing away from it.

"The Shonan Maru steams to port to avoid a collision. I guess they, the Ady Gil, miscalculated," Inwood told The AP. "Sea Shepherd claims that the Shonan Maru has rammed the Ady Gil and cut it in half -- its claim is just not vindicated by the video."

Regardless of who was at fault, Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett was not pleased by the incident.

"We condemn any dangerous or violent activity that takes place in the southern oceans," he told The AP. "We call on all parties to exercise absolute restraint because safety at sea is the No. 1 priority."

The Sea Shepherds initially released a statement saying the Ady Gil was "believed to be sinking and chances of salvage are very grim," however the new vessel might not be lost just yet.

"The original prognostic was that it was sinking, but at this point it is flooded with water but it seems to still have a bit of buoyancy," Maclean told The AP.

Animal Planet renewed Whale Wars for a third season in August.  Like the show's 2008 and 2009 seasons, the third season will follow Sea Shepherds during their whale defense campaign in Antarctica.  The campaign -- dubbed "Operation Waltzing Matilda" -- launched in November.

The Sea Shephards had unveiled the Ady Gil in October.  Originally named the Earthrace and designed to run on environmentally-friendly alternative fuels, the ship was capable of traveling at up to 50 knots and had set a new global circumnavigation record in 2008.

The crew members that were on the vessel when it was struck were rescued by the Sea Shepherds' newly-commissioned Bob Barker ship -- which is named for the former The Price is Right host, who donated $5 million to buy and refit the 1,200-ton former Norwegian whaler.

Barker told The AP he donated the money after meeting Watson and being impressed by the society's mission.

"He said he thought he could put the Japanese whaling fleet out of business if he had $5 million," Barker told The AP.

"I said, 'I think you do have the skills to do that, and I have $5 million, so let's get it on,' so that's what we did."

The six crew members were subsequently transferred from the Bob Barker to the Steve Irwin, the society's main vessel.

Whale Wars' third season is currently slated to air this summer.

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