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Whalers Hold Two Protesters Hostage, Sea Shepherd Claims

by Lauren Williams

The controversial anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd has tonight accused the Japanese hunting fleet of taking hostage two of its crew, including an Australian.Queenslander Benjamin Potts is believed to have been tied to the mast of the Japanese whaler Yushin Maru in freezing conditions in the Antarctic.

The two crew members of the Sea Shepherd protest ship, Steve Irwin, were tied to the radar mast aboard the Japanese harpoon vessel about 6.30pm after boarding the ship in protest.

The captain of the Steve Irwin, Paul Watson, said Mr Potts and British citizen Giles Lane had been assaulted as they climbed aboard the Japanese ship.

"They tried to throw Benjamin overboard before they tied him up,'' Mr Watson said.

The pair boarded the ship after the Japanese crew failed to respond to a radio contact from the Steve Irwin.

"We put radio calls in, in Japanese and English, informing them they were in violation of International law,'' Mr Watson said.

"When they failed to respond, we deployed the inflatable.''

The two, with four other crew members on board, drove a six-metre inflatable next to the Japanese vessel to deliver a letter of protest.

Mr Watson said the letter requested they be treated courteously and left unharmed.

The group said it had reported the incident to the Australian Federal Police.

The Federal Government is yet to confirm the incident.

Steve Irwin catches whalers

Earlier, Sea Shepherd environmentalists said they had caught up with the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean and would do everything possible to stop the hunt.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said its ship, the Steve Irwin, located five whaling vessels at 11.15am (AEDT) today on the 60-degree south line.

Greenpeace ship the Esperanza has been pursuing the fleet's factory ship the Nisshin Maru, which Sea Shepherd said was about 640km north-west of the other vessels.

Sea Shepherd said the crews on the catcher boats Kyo Maru and Yushin Maru and supply ship the Oriental Bluebird rushed to weigh anchor upon spotting the Steve Irwin.

The organisation this afternoon (AEDT) said the Steve Irwin was 11km behind the fleet with a helicopter in the air and a fast boat approaching the whalers.

"We have them on the run,'' ship captain Paul Watson said.

"We will hound these poachers for as long as we can and when we catch up with them we will disable their equipment and do everything physically possible short of inflicting injury on the crew in order to stop their illegal activities.''

Sea Shepherd said it had notified the Esperanza of the fleet's coordinates - something Greenpeace has not reciprocated - and has made the details public.

Australian customs ship the Oceanic Viking is also sailing to the whaling zone with the aim of gathering evidence for a potential international legal case against Japan.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland ruled out the ship attempting to enforce today's Federal Court judgment against the Japanese whaling company's hunt in the Australian-declared whale sanctuary.

Mr McClelland rejected the Humane Society International's call to have the Oceanic Viking intervene in the hunt, saying such a move would only strengthen Japanese resistance when the Government was looking to foster cooperation.

© 2008 Perth Now

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