A crew member of Japanese whaling vessel Yushin Maru waves upon departure for a hunt that will include humpbacks - a favorite among whale-watchers - for the first time in decades at a port of Shimonoseki, southwestern Japan, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2007. Four ships, including the 8,044-ton mother ship Nisshin Maru, will head to waters off Antarctica despite a potential high-seas showdown with environmental groups and a deadly fire in February that crippled the mother ship and triggered strong protests over a potential oil spill. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
The leader of a militant conservation group that has skirmished violently with Japanese whalers said Wednesday he will not retreat from confrontation during his bid to stop this season's hunt in Antarctic waters.
Paul Watson will captain the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's ship, the Steve Irwin, when it leaves the Australian east coast city of Brisbane on Thursday to harass the Japanese whaling fleet in the Antarctic Ocean.
His 45-member crew will include U.S. actress and conservationist Daryl Hannah.
Watson, a Canadian who has boasted about ramming whaling ships to save the marine mammals, said his crew would not use tactics that endanger life in the remote and treacherous southern seas, but that he expected the whalers to be on the offensive. Sea Shepherd activists have disrupted the annual hunt for the past three years, causing economic losses for the fleet, he said.
"They'll most likely be more aggressive toward us this year than last year," Watson told The Associated Press by telephone from Brisbane.
He expects to intercept the Japanese whalers in mid-December and could remain in the icy waters until March.
The fleet left Japan in secret last month, without the ceremonies that traditionally herald the whalers' departure.
"We've faced tremendous damage from violent protests by anti-whaling groups over the last few years, so we have to defend ourselves," said Fisheries Agency official Hideaki Okada. He declined to provide details.
Sea Shepherd and the whalers blame each other for a collision in February last year that left the Robert Hunter - since renamed the Steve Irwin for the late Australian conservationist - with a 3-foot (1-meter) gash in its stern.
Two Sea Shepherd activists boarded a Japanese harpoon ship in January this year and were held onboard for several days until Australian Customs officers picked them up.
Japanese officials say the activists throw ropes and nets into the water to entangle propellers and lob smoke canisters and rancid butter onto the vessels.
Hannah, whose movies include "Splash" and "Blade Runner," said the whaling industry could be shut down if conservationists worked together and governments enforced anti-whaling laws.
"These guys are the only guys out there actually fighting against illegal hunting," Hannah told reporters at a press conference in Brisbane. The Japanese are allowed to harvest a quota of whales under a ruling by the International Whaling Commission, as long as the mammals are caught for research, not commercial purposes.
This year the whalers plan to catch up to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales but no humpbacks, Japanese fisheries officials said.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.
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