A space age 78 foot trimaran, the round the world speed powerboat record holder Earthrace, latterly a New Zealand protest ship is said to have been severely damaged by a Japanese vessel as clashes over Japan's whaling activities in Antarctic waters continue to escalate.
The Sea Sherperd anti-whaling group's boat, Ady Gil, formerly known as Earthrace, has been almost three metres cut from its carbon fibre bow by a Japanese security vessel Shonan Maru near Commonwealth Bay earlier today, Wednesday and the New Zealand-registered vessel is in danger of sinking.
Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson had said the vessel was rammed, but that the six-member crew including skipper Pete Bethune had been rescued and were uninjured.
According to eyewitness Captain Chuck Swift on the third anti-whaling vessel the Bob Barker, the attack happened while the vessels were dead in the water. The Shonan Maru No. 2 suddenly started up and deliberately rammed the Ady Gil ripping eight feet completely off of the bow of the vessel. According to Captain Swift, the vessel does not look like it will be saved.
'The Japanese whalers have now escalated this conflict very violently,' said Captain Paul Watson. 'If they think that our remaining two ships will retreat from the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in the face of their extremism, they will be mistaken. We now have a real whale war on our hands now and we have no intention of retreating.'
Captain Paul Watson onboard the Steve Irwin is racing towards the area at 16 knots but still remains some five hundred miles to the north. The Bob Barker has temporarily stopped the pursuit of the Nisshin Maru to rescue the crew of the Ady Gil.
It is alleged that the Japanese ships initially refused to acknowledge the May Day distress of the Ady Gil, but ultimately did acknowledge the call.
Despite acknowledging the call, they did not offer to assist the Ady Gil or the Bob Barker in any way.
Swift summed up. 'There is a big gaping hole, so it can't go anywhere or it would fill up with water,' he said.
The Ady Gil is believed to be sinking and chances of salvage are very grim.
The incident took place at 64 Degrees and 03 Minutes South and 143 Degrees and 09 Minutes East
Earlier on Wednesday, representative for the whalers, the Cetacean Institute, accused the Ady Gil crew of carrying out a two-hour attack on the fleet.
It says the powerboat repeatedly came within collision distance directly in front of the Nisshin Maru and tried to use a rope to entangle the Japanese vessel's rudder and propeller.
Meanwhile, the Australian government says it is waiting for urgent legal advice before it responds to reports that Japanese whalers have chartered Australian planes to monitor anti-whaling activists.