ANTI-WHALING campaigners had endangered a Japanese whale boat crew and scientists by throwing bottles of acid and ramming their vessel in Antarctic waters, Japan's whale research body said.
The Institute of Cetacean Research in Tokyo said the Dutch-flagged protest vessel Steve Irwin launched an attack on the whale-spotting vessel Kaiko Maru on Friday night.
The institute said protesters from the vessel threw about 15 bottles of acid and bottles containing a bluish-green liquid at their vessel. It also accused the Steve Irwin of close harassment and of ramming the Kaiko Maru.
But the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which owns the Steve Irwin, accused the whaling boat of entering Australia's economic exclusion zone.
"I have a chart here and it clearly states that these waters are [in the] Australian EEZ," Steve Irwin captain Paul Watson said on the Sea Shepherd website. "There is an Australian Federal Court order specifically prohibiting these ships from whaling in these waters."
Mr Watson said the actions had severely disrupted the Japanese vessel's whaling activities in Australian waters.
The Institute's director, Minoru Morimoto, said the Japanese activities in the Antarctic were legal and described the activist group as terrorist vigilantes.
"Their activity threatens the safety of our crews and scientists, and should not be condoned," he said.
The Japanese whaling fleet plans to kill about 1000 whales this summer, using a loophole in a 1986 whaling moratorium that allows "lethal research" on the ocean giants.