Survivors rope in iceberg's aid

By Claire Trevett

Two anti-whaling protesters lost in frigid Antarctic waters lassoed an iceberg to protect them from the wind as they drifted in heavy fog.

Karl Nielsen of Perth and American John Gravois were found yesterday afternoon seven hours after becoming lost in the inflatable boat they had been using to frustrate Japan's annual whale hunt.

Mr Gravois said they had been trying to foul the propeller of a Japanese whaling ship with a net, but got too close and their small craft collided with the ship's massive hull.

The inflatable - part of an ongoing protest by the Sea Shepherd conservation group - soon began taking on water and could not keep up with other, similar craft involved in the campaign.

The pair were quickly left behind but the real blow came when they found their radio would not work, Mr Gravois said after being hauled safely on board Sea Shepherd's flagship, the Farley Mowat.

The Los Angeles man said yesterday that the hours spent in icy temperatures, enveloped in fog and cut off from any form of help, had been "pretty hairy".

He credited Mr Nielsen with taking charge. "He has got years and years and years of nautical experience. I was taking orders from him."

Mr Gravois said that during their ordeal they had lassoed an iceberg to shield them from the wind.

The Farley Mowat and sister ship the Robert Hunter have been in the Antarctic for the past six weeks looking for the Japanese whaling fleet and spotted the Nisshin Maru about 1am yesterday.

Sea Shepherd international director Jonny Vasic, on board the Robert Hunter, said they asked the Japanese whaler to help find the missing pair.

The Nisshin Maru also put out a call for its five hunter and spotter boats to move to the area.

Mr Vasic said that under the laws of the sea, nearby vessels must assist in emergencies.

"We would have done exactly the same for them. We have called them and thanked them and we are grateful for their help. They did join the search pattern, which shows there is some sensibilities there.

"But they are still breaking international conservation laws and that can't be tolerated so we are still planning to get back to business."

Maritime New Zealand helped to co-ordinate the search and had arranged for an RNZAF Orion to help early today if the two were not found.

The Japanese fleet was the same as that caught on film by the Air Force harpooning and processing whales in the Ross Sea.

This week New Zealand allowed a crew member from one of the Japanese vessels into Wellington for medical treatment. Conservation Minister Chris Carter said international law forbade a country from refusing a call for help from a ship within the international waters over which a country had search and rescue responsibilities.

The Japanese vessel was told to remain outside New Zealand's 12-mile territorial waters.

The Sea Shepherd boats are travelling as "pirate" vessels after Canada, Britain and Belize all pulled their registration.

Last month Captain Paul Watson said the boats would continue regardless and disregard any commands to stop the campaign.

"If anyone wishes to stop us from protecting whales, they will have to sink us."

The Nisshin Maru was in a collision with a Greenpeace vessel last year.

The Farley Mowat crew left on Operation Leviathan early last month. They had offered a $25,000 reward for information on the whereabouts of the Japanese fleet.

- Additional reporting AAP

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