Australia and New Zealand will launch inquiries into the collision between an anti-whaling boat and a Japanese ship as calls grow for an independent vessel to be sent to the Antarctic to monitor increasingly violent clashes between the Japanese whaling fleet and environmental protesters.
Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said today the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) had been directed to investigate the incident, while the New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said Maritime New Zealand would also launch an investigation.
The action was announced as a crewman on Ady Gil spoke of his terror when the high-tech, $2 million boat was struck by the Shonan Maru II in a collision that ripped the hull off the protest boat.
As both sides blamed the other for the high-speed collision, Gillard said, after watching a video of the incident: "It deeply concerns me. Lives are at risk. It seems miraculous that lives were not lost."
Meanwhile Japan complained to Wellington about the collision involving the New Zealand-registered protest boat.
The Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano, said: "We have lodged strong protests with the New Zealand Government. We have strongly demanded that similar incidents are not be repeated."
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society declared "whale war" on the Japanese fleet after the Ady Gil, a fibreglass trimaran that holds the speed record for global circumnavigation, was struck by the whaling boat on Wednesday. The protesters claim their boat was at a standstill and the Shonan Maru II changed course to ram them, while the Japanese sailors insist the protest boat slowed down as it was cutting across their bow, making it impossible for them to change direction in time.
Laurens de Groot, a 29-year-old crewman on the Ady Gil, said the boat was drifting at the time of the crash, and had the right of way.
"It was the most terrifying moment of my life — when you look up and there's the bow of a thousand-ton steel ship hanging above you, about to split you in two," he told the Hobart Mercury. "You're looking death straight in the eye."
"I was standing on the roof of the vessel. Thank God I could just jump out of the way as soon as the bow hit us," he added. "They were running us down and still hosing us."
De Groot insisted that the environmentalists were standing by to allow a second protest boat to pass and were not attacking the Japanese ship.
"We decided to drift and let the [Sea Shepherd boat] Bob Barker pass by as well as the harpoon ships which were following the Bob Barker," he said.
But Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research said the Ady Gil had harassed the surveillance ship for two hours before the incident, firing stink bombs and towing ropes in an attempt to tangle them in the ship's propeller.
"The Sea Shepherd extremism is becoming more violent," a spokesman for the institute said.
Michael White, a specialist in maritime law at the University of Queensland, said it was "fairly likely" charges would be laid over the clash but it was too early to say against whom.