Opponents of Canada's annual slaughter of newborn harp seals have been forced to sail into enemy territory after their ship sprang a mysterious leak.
The 54-metre Farley Mowat, crewed by volunteers from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, arrived in Port Aux Basques, Newfoundland yesterday escorted by a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker.
The conservationists had discovered the leak earlier in the day while their ship was just north of Cabot Strait in the Gulf of St Lawrence on Canada's east coast.
Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson said engineers aboard the ship detected water rising in the engine room.
"The cause of the breach is unknown although it is expected that there may be ice damage from the heavy ice floes," he said.
The crew notified the Coast Guard and were advised to proceed to Port Aux Basques.
Watson said the Coast Guard put three pumps aboard the Farley Mowat but the ship's own pumps proved adequate for the job.
The Coast Guard ship Sir Wilfred Grenfell met up with the Farley Mowat to assist in breaking ice on the trip to Port Aux Basques.
"The first thing we need to do is determine the source of the leak," said Watson.
"The next thing is to put a temporary patch on the hole and then we can make preparations for a permanent repair."
It is not known whether the ship and her crew will be able to continue with their campaign to publicise and disrupt the clubbing to death of more than 300,000 seals.
The "hunt" is expected to start between March 20th and 25th, with the exact date to be decided by the Canadian government.
Watson was not aboard his ship when the leak was discovered. He was on the ice doing a celebrity photo shoot with actor and fellow seal conservationist Richard Dean Anderson.
He said he kept in touch with the crew by radio, and that they had made the right decision to head for port.
When asked by the Globe and Mail newspaper whether he thought his 28 crew members might get a hot reception from sealers in Port aux Basques, Watson replied, "I hope so."
Watson has been going to the ice since the 1970s in an attempt to end the government-approved killing of seals.
Ten years ago, sealers broke into his hotel room on the Magdalen Islands and beat him up.