Paul Watson: Bullet found in vest. (File photo) (AAP Image: Raoul Wegat)
The Captain of the Sea Shepherd anti-whaling ship, the Steve Irwin, claims he has been shot by Japanese whalers during a confrontation in the Southern Ocean.
Paul Watson says members of his crew threw stink bombs aboard the whaling ship, the Nisshin Maru, and the Japanese responded by returning flash grenades.
He says one of his crew was hit by a grenade and received minor injuries.
Mr Watson says he then felt a thud in his chest and found a bullet lodged in his bullet-proof vest.
"... but it also came through and I have this badge and it hit the badge and bent that too so it just left a bruise really on my chest - so it could have - if I wasn't wearing the vest it could have been pretty serious," Mr Watson said.
He says even before shots were fired, the Japanese whalers were acting recklessly in their confrontation.
"We were doing what we usually do, which is putting stink bombs on deck," he said.
"We go out of our way to make sure we don't throw them near anybody, but they were throwing the flash grenades directly at us."
Mr Watson says there is no justification for the whalers opening fire.
"These people are criminals, they're down here killing whales illegally in a place they're not supposed to be."
"Why are there armed coast guard people attacking Australian citizens and other citizens in Australian Antarctic territory?"
Japan's Coast Guard Agency has told the ABC in Tokyo that it received a report earlier today from its officers on board the whaling fleet that the Sea Shepherd had been obstructing one of the Japanese ships.
The Coast Guard says it will release a statement shortly detailing the current situation.
The Federal Government says it has received assurances that crew members on the Japanese whaling ship fired warning balls at the protesters, not gunshots.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith says Japanese officials have told the Australian embassy in Tokyo that warning balls or flashbangs were fired at the ship.
The devices are designed to make a loud noise but not to injure
Japan has also advised the Australian Embassy that a crew member on board the Japanese whaling boat fired a warning shot in the air.
Mr Smith has repeated his call for all parties in the Southern Ocean to exercise restraint.
He says he absolutely condemns actions by crew members of any boat that could injure anyone on the high seas.
Sea Shepherd Media Release March 7th, 1800 Hours.
Japanese Fire On Sea Shepherd Crew - Three Injured
Steve Irwin Captain Shot
Cameraman and Crewmember Injured by Flash Grenade
At 1545 ( 0445 G.M.T.)a clash between the crew of the Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin and the Japanese whaling ship Nishiin Maru turned violent when Japanese Coast Guard threw flash grenades at the crew of the Steve Irwin.
Captain Paul Watson was struck by a bullet in the chest which fortunately was stopped by his Kevlar vest. The bullet struck just above the heart and mangled Captain Watson's anti-poaching badge on his sweater underneath.
Doctor David Page pried the bullet from the vest.
Doctor David Page was videotaped prying the bullet from Captain Watson's Kevlar vest. "You have been hit by a bullet," he said.
The kevlar vest and badge effectively saved Captain's Watson life.
Ashley Dunn 35, from Launceston, Tasmania suffered a hip injury when he tried to get out of the way of the exploding grenades.
Ralph Lowe 33, from Melbourne, Australia received bruises to his back when one of the flash grenades exploded behind him.
The Japanese were retaliating against the Sea Shepherd crew for tossing rotten butter on the decks to discourage whaling activities. The clash came after a weeklong pursuit by the Steve Irwin of the Nisshin Maru, in an effort to stop illegal whaling activities in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
Earlier in the day at 0800 Hours (1900 G.M.T.) the Steve Irwin had ordered the Nisshin Maru to leave French Territorial waters. The Japanese whaler complied and turned around and headed back west into Australian waters.
The confrontation occurred inside the Australian Territorial Zone at the position of 63 Degrees, 41 Minutes South and 133 Degrees 27 Minutes East. Video and photos of the incident are being transmitted to Sea Shepherd's head office.
Captain Paul Watson
Master - The Steve Irwin
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SEA SHEPHERD HAS THE JAPANESE WHALERS ON THE RUN AGAIN
Aboard the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin --The Japanese whaling fleet is on the run again. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ship Steve Irwin re-located the Japanese whaling fleet at 0600 hours this morning, February 23, 2008.
A few hours earlier, the Steve Irwin had been side tracked when it chased a vessel that turned out to be a Namibian Toothfish vessel. The Antalles Reefer registered in Walvis Bay was found at 0200 Hours. The vessel refused to give a fishing permit number and threatened the Steve Irwin by reporting that it was armed. The Captain of the Antalles Reefer claimed to speak only Russian. The Steve Irwin has a Russian speaking crewmember and during the conversation the Captain said he would resist with force if there was any interference with his operations. Captain Paul Watson relayed the information to the Australian Customs vessel Oceanic Viking and reported that a suspicious toothfish fishing vessel was operating inside the Australian Economic Exclusion Zone.
At 0600 Hours, the Steve Irwin encountered the Fukuyoshi Maru No. 68 which immediately headed eastward to lead the Sea Shepherd crew away from the whaling fleet. The Steve Irwin continued west and the Fukuyoshi Maru No. 68 turned and began to pursue the Steve Irwin. It is believed that the Fukuyoshi Maru No 68 carries armed Japanese coast guard officers. The Steve Irwin is now pursuing the Nisshin Maru and two harpoon vessels with the Fukuyoshi Maru No. 68 in pursuit of the Steve Irwin.
"The great Southern Ocean whaling ship chase is on again," said Captain Paul Watson. "I don�t think any whales are going to be dying today. Our goal is to keep the harpoons quiet for the next three weeks."
The weather is good, the seas are calm and the chase is threading its way southwest through an obstacle course of icebergs, growlers, and bergy bits. The Steve Irwin has plenty of fuel, water and provisions and a crew that is committed to shutting down the illegal whaling operations of the Japanese fleet.
"I can�t think of a place I would rather be right now," said Jeff Hansen from Fremantle, Western Australia. "Seeing the Japanese whalers running like cowards from the Steve Irwin is a very satisfying experience."
The chase is taking place some 80 miles north of the Shackleton Glacier off the coast of Queen Mary land, well inside Australian Antarctic Territorial waters.
On January 15th, 2008, an Australian Federal Court ordered that Japanese whaling be "restrained" in Australian territorial waters. The Sea Shepherd crew is acting to enforce that court order and to uphold numerous international regulations that the Japanese whaling fleet has and continues to violate.