Sydney: Militant anti-whaling activists said they were dodging a Japanese surveillance ship in icebergs near Antarctica Wednesday, following their first skirmish with whalers for the season.
Paul Watson, who is leading a campaign to harass the annual whaling hunt, said a heavily-barbed and armed ship loaded with Japanese security guards had been tailing them since they left Western Australia on December 7.
When they attempted to approach the ship, Shonan Maru No.2, from behind an iceberg on Monday, Watson said the Japanese opened fire with two water cannon and tailed them in a two-hour high-speed pursuit.
"We had our water cannons at ready but we never opened up on them," Watson told, speaking via satellite phone from Antarctic waters.
"This is the first time that the Japanese have sent down security forces. As long as they`re following us they can relay our position to the whaling fleet so they can move if we`re approaching them."
Watson said the Shonan Maru No.2 was still tailing them Wednesday, but "we`re going to try and lose them in the ice pack down here off the coast."
"They said if we try to block the operations they`ll put their ship between us and the harpoon vessels, which will most likely result in collisions," Watson said.
"But we`re not going to back down, we`re there to block their operations and we`re not going to back down because they try to force us out of the way."
Despite the beefed-up security, Watson said he was confident of disrupting the hunt for a sixth year, saying activists had a futuristic powerboat which would be able to outrun the ships and block their harpoons.
"It`ll be our interceptor vessel, I think it will make a big difference," he said.
Japan`s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama this week asked visiting Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd to rein in the Sea Shepherd activists, describing their actions as "sabotage".
Hatoyama also dismissed threats from Rudd that he would haul Japan before the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, saying his country`s activities were legal.
An international moratorium on commercial whaling was imposed in 1986 but Japan kills hundreds each year using a loophole that allows "lethal research" on the ocean giants.
Japan makes no secret that the meat ends up on dinner tables, and accuses Western nations of not respecting its culture.