A conservationist group's boat that was chasing a Japanese whaling vessel off Antarctica was seriously damaged by a giant wave Thursday _ a major setback in the group's ongoing and sometimes violent battle with Japan's whaling fleet, the activists said.
The wave cracked the hull and severely damaged one of the pontoons on the Brigitte Bardot, a scout vessel for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which is chasing the whaling fleet in the hopes of interrupting Japan's annual hunt. None of the boat's 10 crew were hurt, and the vessel was in no danger of sinking in the icy waters, Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson said.
"It's not going to stop our attempt, but it is a setback because it takes out one of our boats," Watson told The Associated Press by phone from his vessel, the Steve Irwin.
The Brigitte Bardot was chasing the Japanese ship Nisshin Maru in 20-foot (6-meter) swells when the rogue wave smashed into the port side of the vessel, cracking the hull, Watson said. The pontoon was in danger of breaking off, but the boat was not taking on any water, he said.
"The captain there assures me that everything will be fine by the time we reach them," Watson said.
The Steve Irwin, named after the late Australian crocodile hunter, was making its way through rough seas toward the Brigitte Bardot and was about 12 hours away by Thursday afternoon, Watson said. Once there, the Steve Irwin will escort the stricken boat 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) to Fremantle, Western Australia, for repairs, and immediately return to the waters off Antarctica to continue chasing the whalers.
Meanwhile, the group's third vessel, the Bob Barker, was left to hunt the whaling fleet by itself on Thursday.
Japan's whaling fleet kills up to 1,000 whales a year, an allowed exception under a ruling by the International Whaling Commission. Japan is permitted to hunt the animals as long as they are caught for research and not commercial purposes. Whale meat not used for study is sold as food in Japan, which critics say is the real reason for the hunts. Each hunting season runs from about December through February.
Sea Shepherd has sent boats to the waters off Antarctica for the past several years in an attempt to thwart the hunt. The two sides have occasionally had violent clashes, including a skirmish in 2010 in which a Sea Shepherd boat was sunk after its bow was sheared off in a collision with a whaling ship.