Anti-whaling protesters 'at law's limit'

The five New Zealanders and the Dutchman on the New Zealand protest boat rammed by a Japanese whaling ship on Wednesday were operating "at the very limit and edge of the law", says an international expert

It was clear "provocative" behaviour was involved on the part of the crew of Ady Gil crew skippered by Peter Bethune, Professor Donald Rothwell of Australia's National University in Canberra told The Australian newspaper's online edition.

"There's a history of being very provocative and they really are operating at the very edge of the law," he said.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's Ady Gil had its bow sheared off in a collision with the Japanese whaler's ship Shonan Maru 2 on Wednesday.

"We know Sea Shepherd vessels have collided with whalers in the past," said Prof Rothwell. "The difference this time is it is obviously a more light and nimble vessel and it was the only one that was going to be damaged in that collision.

"The reality is restraint hasn't been exercised and the (anti-whalers) are now talking about war in the southern ocean."

Prof Rothwell said that if there were going to be any legal claims for damages "I suspect it will be in New Zealand" .

And Ernest van Buuren, a maritime law expert and the deputy federal master of the Company of Master Mariners Australia, told the ABC that criminal charges were unlikely.

Crimes at sea legislation could apply, but it was more likely it will be a matter for investigation that will ultimately only involve insurance companies.

He said that initially it seemed that the Japanese ship, Shonan Maru 2, was at fault when it hit the New Zealand trimaran Ady Gil.

"The Shonan Maru 2 should be giving way to the Ady Gil because it's on the starboard side and what seems to be the allegation of the Shonan Maru 2 is that the Ady Gill failed to keep its course and speed, it was varying its speed," he said.

"There is responsibility on the Shonan Maru to give way, but also responsibility from the Ady Gill to maintain its course and speed."

Prof Rothwell said Australia should now probably send a vessel to monitor the situation, if only to perform search and rescue operations in the event of another incident.

The Australian government ship Oceanic Viking was an obvious choice, he said

Australia's Green Party has called on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to pay A$1.5 million towards replacing the New Zealand protest vessel Ady Gil, which was run down by a Japanese whalers.

And the party leader, Bob Brown also wants the Australian government to send a navy ship to police the "whale wars".

"Kevin Rudd should be replacing that ship," Senator Brown told Fairfax Radio Network.

"(And) I think a naval ship should be down there.

"A whale observation ship, a naval ship, would have stopped that behaviour.

Greenpeace Australia has also called for the Australian Government to send a vessel to observe any future conflict.

"We strongly support calls for the Australian government to send an observer ship to the Southern Ocean," chief executive Linda Selvey told Fairfax Radio Network.

Ms Selvey said Greenpeace vessels had been rammed by Japanese whaling ships in the past.

"Having an independent observer would have been very useful (in proving fault)," she said.

It would also provide an additional safety measure.

- NZPA

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