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Japanese whalers lash protesters to mast

Alleged assault during boarding

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Two campaigners from anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd are "in custody" aboard Japanese whaling vessel the Yushin Maru 2 after boarding the ship in the Antarctic, the BBC reports. The pair were allegedly assaulted and tied to a radar mast during the action, Sea Shepherd claims.

The pair - Australian Benjamin Potts and Briton Giles Lane - boarded the Yushin Maru 2 from Sea Shepherd's ship the Steve Irwin intending to "deliver a message informing the Japanese that it was now illegal to kill whales, because an Australian court had outlawed the practice".

The latest Japanese whaling expedition will target 900 minke whales and 50 fin whales between now and mid-April in the name of "scientific research", the BBC explains. A Federal Court judgement in Sydney had ruled the expedition illegal, and called for its cancellation. The Japanese responded by ignoring the judgement.

The Institute of Cetacean Research's Minoru Morimoto admitted the two protestors had been detained but "denied they had been assaulted or harmed", and dismissed the mast-lashing claim as "completely untrue".

He added: "It is illegal to board another country's vessels on the high seas. As a result, at this stage, they are being held in custody while decisions are made on their future."

Sea Shepherd has accused the Japanese of holding the two men hostage, and said in a statement: "Captain Paul Watson has notified the Australian Federal Police that he would like to see kidnapping charges brought against the Japanese whalers." ®

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