SYDNEY (AFP) — A militant environmental group Tuesday said it had planted tracking devices on Japanese whaling ships to ensure they could always find the harpoon boats in the vast Southern Ocean.
Paul Watson, the captain of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessel the Steve Irwin, said a device had been placed on the factory ship Yushin Maru No. 2 which was boarded by two of his crew members last month.
"I don't know if bugging is the correct term (because) that means a listening device," Watson told AFP via satellite phone.
"We have a satellite tracking device. It sends signals periodically to a satellite which beams them down. It's the same thing you use for tracking whales and seals and fish at sea."
Watson said other boats in the Japanese fleet had been tagged in a similar way but he refused to say how many or how it was done.
He said without the devices it might not have been worthwhile to continue to pursue the harpoonists for the remainder of the southern hemisphere summer after the Steve Irwin was forced back to Australia last month to refuel.
"We would've spent probably a month or a month-and-a-half trying to find them," he said. "We just wouldn't have accomplished much."
The Steve Irwin, which took only nine days to find the fleet after its fuel stop, has been in the freezing waters off Antarctica since December to try to prevent the whalers from carrying out their planned slaughter of 1,000 whales.
Japan continues to kill the giants of the sea despite an international moratorium on commercial whaling by exploiting a loophole which allows for the animals to be killed for so-called research purposes.
Watson brushed off concerns that it could be illegal to place tracking devices on the Japanese ships.
"I don't see how it could possibly be illegal," he said.
"We treat the Japanese for what they are. They're poachers, they're criminals. And, well yeah, we're going to do whatever we have to in order to track them down and stop their illegal activities."
Watson, who has previously said the animal activists would again attempt to board Japanese ships, said his boat was about 30 to 40 nautical miles behind the Yushin Maru which he said was moving too fast to do any whaling.
"If they slow down we'll catch them," he said.
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