POSTED: Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 4:00am
UPDATED: Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 4:04am
CNN — The anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd said ships from the Japanese whaling fleet attacked its vessels, ramming them and hurling concussion grenades.
"There's been the most outrageous attack on the Sea Shepherd Australia ships today," said Bob Brown, a member of the board of directors of Sea Shepherd Australia, describing it as the "worst incident" the group had experienced since one of its vessels sank two years ago.
In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Brown said that a large Japanese factory ship, the Nisshin Maru, had repeatedly rammed Sea Shepherd ships in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica where it was trying to refuel and that a Japanese government escort vessel had directed water cannon and lobbed concussion grenades at the activists.
He claimed the Japanese ships had intruded into Australian territorial waters and breached both international and Australian law.
"I'm very concerned and alarmed that Japan has decided to become pirates in our territorial waters," he said. "It's time the Australian government acted."
The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said it was checking what had happened with the whaling fleet and was unable to comment further at this point.
Australian authorities didn't immediately respond to requests for comment from CNN, but the ABC cited Environment Minister Tony Burke as saying he was trying to confirm what had taken place.
"Let's wait until I can get those reports confirmed, but I won't be going quiet once I get the information," he said.
Japan annually hunts whales despite a worldwide moratorium, utilizing a loophole in the law that allows for killing the mammals for scientific research.
Each year, environmental groups like Sea Shepherd face off with Japan's hunters in a high seas drama that has led to collisions of ships, the detaining of activists and smoke bombs fired back and forth between the groups.