A high-seas game of cat and mouse between a Japanese whaling fleet and conservation group Sea Shepherd’s vessel has turned violent, with both sides blaming the other for attacks on their boats.

Sea Shepherd said one of their ships, the Bob Barker, was rammed by the Japanese fleet’s harpoon ships during “unprovoked” confrontations in the icy waters off Antarctica.

The Japanese boats were trying to chase the anti-whaling activists away from the factory ship Nisshin Maru, Sea Shepherd said.

“The Bob Barker was hit by the Japanese whaling fleet’s harpoon vessel, the Yushin Maru No 2, as the harpoon vessel crossed in front of the bow of the Sea Shepherd ship,” the group said.

“The assault is an attempt to deter the Sea Shepherd ships from their current position: blocking the slipway of the Nisshin Maru, [and] preventing the whalers from loading whales poached from the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.”

Bob Barker captain Peter Hammarstedt said the Japanese ship had attempted to damage the Sea Shepherd vessels with steel cables, grappling hooks and water cannons.

Hammarstedt said the attacks were “ruthless” and “without provocation.”

Japan, meanwhile, says Sea Shepherd is to blame for the collision. The Japanese fleet said three of their harpoon vessels “were subject to sabotage” by the Sea Shepherd ships.

The Japanese government slammed the group for employing “dangerous tactics” to obstruct the operations of Japanese whaling vessels in the Southern Ocean.

“It was a very dangerous act and can never be condoned,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suge told a press conference.

Japan’s Fisheries Agency said in a statement the Japanese fleet was engaged in research whaling and insisted it “is a legitimate activity allowed under the international treaty. Sea Shepherd’s violent sabotage against it, which is threatening the lives of the Japanese crew members and causing damage to our ships and equipment, cannot be tolerated.”

Nobody was hurt in the confrontation, though both ships received minor damage.

Sea Shepherd dismissed Japan’s account of what happened “an absolute lie”. The Japanese whalers “were more aggressive that we have ever seen them before and I think we’re quite lucky that no one was hurt,” Hammarstedt said.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: Sebra / Shutterstock.com