TOKYO - Two of the crew of the Steve Irwin have sustained injuries in the clashes in poor weather in Antarctic waters, according to Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd and captain of the ship. One campaigner was injured after being struck by a water cannon, the other hit in the face by a metal ball.
"Our research whaling fleet only used water cannons and did not use any other weapons," said Toshinori Uoya, a spokesman for the Far Seas Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Tokyo.
"The fleet did use water canons, but only to prevent them from approaching their own vessels in inflatable craft," he said. "They did not target the crew and only fired at the boats."
The agency's claims are in stark contrast to Sea Shepherd's reports of the clashes.
"It is a very dramatic scene out here as ships zig zag back and forth in thick ice and heavy swells," said Watson. "The whalers are deploying water cannons, concussion grenades, acoustic weapons, and throwing solid brass and lead balls at Sea Shepherd crewmembers.
"If we were to do any of the things these thugs are doing, we would be denounced as eco-terrorists," he said. "There certainly is a double standard where whale killers can use violence without fear of condemnation from their government and we can't even defend ourselves without condemnation from our governments."
The fisheries agency denied that the whaling fleet is equipped with long-range acoustic equipment that enables it to emit high-frequency sound waves that cause disorientation and nausea.
"What is important however is that despite the violence from the whalers, no whales are being killed," he added. "They can't get away from us and if we keep on their tail they can't kill whales."
The agancy's Uoya confirmed that the fleet had been forced to halt its whaling operations but declined to give a figure on how many whales the fleet have already harpooned.