OTTAWA (AFP) — A Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker and a ship steered by animal rights activists opposed to Canada's annual seal hunt collided in the Gulf of St. Lawrence overnight, officials said Monday.
A Fisheries and Oceans department spokesman said the Coast Guard vessel Des Groseilliers twice "grazed" the Farley Mowat owned by the militant Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
There was "no damage done" nor any injuries reported, he said.
Alex Cornelissen, captain of the Farley Mowat, said in a statement his vessel was "twice rammed" in the port stern after he ignored warnings not to approach sealers on the third day of Canada's annual hunt.
"They are ramming ships in dangerous ice conditions," Cornelissen said. "This is unbelievable. It's like the Coast Guard has declared war on seal defenders."
Fisheries and Oceans Minister Loyola Hearn said the allegations are "completely untrue" and accused the Farley Mowat crew of "attempting to provoke a confrontation" with the Coast Guard ship.
"The Farley Mowat maneuvered itself in front of the Coast Guard vessel Des Groseilliers to cause a collision between the two vessels," Hearn said in a statement.
He said such tactis "jeapardize the safety and security of people involved in the annual seal hunt" and he called on the Farley Mowat crew to "remove themselves from the area" and "not attack Coast Guard vessels while they protect our sealers."
The annual harp seal hunt kicked off on Friday with a handful of sealing vessels setting out before dawn from the Magdalen islands to reach the seal herds, and with activists close behind.
Animal rights groups, including the Sea Shepherd clan, claim to document the "cruel" slaughter and "atrocities on the ice." But officials accused them of interfering in the hunt.
Sealers routinely face shifting ice, high winds, freezing temperatures and unpredictable seas during the controversial sea hunt.
One vessel was forced to return to port Friday after being slammed by huge chunks of ice.
On Saturday, a boat accident left three sealers dead and one missing. The 12-meter (40-foot) trawler encountered steering problems and later capsized while it was being towed back to port by the Coast Guard.
Cornelissen said the Coast Guard's "incompetence" cost the lives of the four sealers and now it "has demonstrated extreme recklessness" by bumping into the Farley Mowat.
"It appears that Canada is prepared to use violence to cover up the truth of this slaughter," echoed the Sea Shepherd's Paul Watson. "Our duty is to resist their violence and continue to document the truth."
He added that the crew "have already seen enough evidence to understand that the Canadian government's pretense that the slaughter is humane has no basis in reality -- in other words it's a state-sponsored lie."
Fisheries and Oceans Department spokesman Phil Jenkins countered: "It's despicable that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society would use the death of Canadian sealers to try and advance its campaign of misinformation against the seal hunt."
"This is really a new low and it's extremely distasteful," he told AFP.
Ottawa maintains the hunt poses no threat to the harp seal population, and insists the commercial cull is humane and an economic mainstay of its Atlantic Coast communities.
The fatal Coast Guard rescue is now under investigation.
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