A JAPANESE whaling vessel is in distress in the Southern Ocean following a skirmish with conservation activists.
Both sides traded accusations following Friday's incident about 3700km south-east of New Zealand in the Ross Sea.
Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research says its harpoon vessel, Yushin Maru 3 (YS3), was attacked by the Gojira and the Bob Barker from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
The Sea Shepherd fleet and their zodiac boats deployed wire ropes known as "propeller foulers" which disabled the YS3 about 11.10am (AEDT), the Institute said.
The Society did not claim responsibility for any disabling and said it was the YS3 that was chasing them and turned into the Gojira in an attempt ram the vessel.
"We just narrowly avoided being cut in half," Captain Locky MacLean of the Gojira said on the Society's website.
One of the fleet's small craft was showered with bamboo spears from the YS3, the website says, but no one was hit.
The fleet did fire stink and paint bombs at the YS3 to try to stop the vessel following the Bob Barker.
Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Society, said the YS3 was trying to distract the Gojira and Bob Barker in order to keep them away from the Institute's two other harpoon vessels and its factory ship.
He also said the Gojira received the YS3's distress call and responded three times with an offer of assistance but did not get an answer.
"They say they're in distress and we're standing by," Captain Watson said.
"The Gojira is right beside them and they refuse to answer our calls."
The Institute said the Shepard fleet ignored the distress call, which Captain Watson said was "absolutely not true".
Captain Watson said the YS3 remains idle and the Gojira will stay by her side, ready to assist.
The Bob Barker has since left the area and is currently looking for the Nisshan Maru - the fleet's factory ship.
Captain Watson is in command of the fleet's flagship vessel, the Steve Irwin, and returned to Wellington, New Zealand, yesterday to refuel and pick up supplies.
The Steve Irwin departs on Tuesday night for the Southern Ocean.
He said the Society's fleet intercepted the Japanese vessels before they started their annual hunt in the Southern Ocean in late December and have kept two of the three harpoon ships from killing any whales.
"They are going to have a disastrous year as far as catching whales," Captain Watson said.
The annual whaling season ends in mid-March.
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