Whaling conflict shifts to NZ waters

The long struggle by anti-whaling activists to shake off Japanese pursuit is shifting to New Zealand waters, where the government is warning the whalers away.

Sea Shepherd's two ships are seeking refuge in the Auckland Islands, an uninhabited group about 1000 kilometres. south of New Zealand's South Island.

The activists steamed there after abandoning plans for the refuelled Bob Barker to meet the Steve Irwin at Tasmania's sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island last weekend.

Sea Shepherd leader, Paul Watson, said he decided to shift to New Zealand waters when the whalers' ships ignored Australian government complaints about their latest incursion into waters around Macquarie.

The whaling fleet's guard ship, Shonan Maru No. 2, and the harpoon ship Yushin Maru No. 3 were plotted by Sea Shepherd deep inside the Australian 200 nautical mile EEZ around Macquarie on Sunday in their continuing pursuit of the activists.

Mr Watson said it would be more difficult for Japanese ships to track them at the Aucklands, where his ships would be able to use a network of bays in the island group to move out of the whalers' radar range.

A spokeswoman for the New Zealand Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, said the Japanese government had given an undertaking that the whalers would not enter the 12 mile limit of NZ territorial waters.

"Whaling vessels are not welcome in New Zealand territorial waters," the spokeswoman said.

"We have conveyed this message to the government of Japan. The government of Japan has assured us that the whaling fleet will not enter the New Zealand territorial sea."

Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research does not comment on the movements of its fleet, but Mr Watson today said he had arrived at the Aucklands, and the tailing Yushin Maru No. 3 had halted at the 12 mile limit.

"We are sending the helicopter up soon to look for the Shonan Maru No. 2," he said.

The pursuit across the Southern Ocean has enabled other ships of the whaling fleet to avoid harassment by the activists since Christmas.

The key vessel, the factory ship Nisshin Maru, is so far enjoying an Antarctic whaling season free of close approach by Sea Shepherd. With the aid of two other harpoon ships it is likely to have taken hundreds of whales.

Mr Watson said he was confident the numbers of whales taken had been severely reduced by Sea Shepherd pressure that had kept the fleet on the run and required the whalers to rotate their pursuit ships.

He said his ships would return south to pursue the "floating abattoir", Nisshin Maru, off the coast of Antarctica.

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