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Diplomatic stoush over detained activists -

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ALI MOORE: It's a tale that has all the elements of a Hollywood blockbuster, including claims of
hostage taking, piracy and danger on the high seas.

But the stand-off between Japanese whalers and anti-whaling protesters in the Southern Ocean is a
real-life drama which is now posing a major diplomatic headache for Australia and Japan. Within
hours of yesterday's Federal Court decision that the whalers were breaking Australian environmental
law, two members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society boarded a whaling vessel to deliver a
letter ordering the crew out of Antarctic waters.

While Japanese authorities say they're only too willing to hand the men back, both sides blame each
other for the continuing stand-off amid diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis.

Michael Vincent reports.

(Sound of horn blaring)

MICHAEL VINCENT: It's become an annual showdown on the Southern Ocean between Japanese whaling
ships and the activists determined to stop them.

The nautical brinkmanship ranges from the protests of Greenpeace to the more extreme actions of Sea
Shepherd activists who are prepared to put their ships in harm's way.

Yesterday, the struggle moved to a new stage when the Federal Court ruled it was illegal to hunt
whales in Australia's Antarctic whale sanctuary.

Within hours, two Sea Shepherd activists took it upon themselves to deliver the news first hand.


PAUL WATSON, CAPTAIN, SEA SHEPHERD: They were trying to deliver that letter and they were assaulted
upon boarding and tied up to the rails and then taken and tied up to the masts for a couple of
hours and then they've been held hostage ever since.

MICHAEL VINCENT: In Tokyo, the Japanese Government was scathing in its criticism of the activists.

NOBUTAKA MACHIMURA, JAPANESE CABINET SECRETARY (Translated): What they did was extremely dangerous
and as the Japanese Government we strongly condemn these acts.

DON ROTHWELL, INTERNATIONAL LAW, ANU: It's probably not an act of piracy, there doesn't seem to be
any intention that the individuals were seeking to seize control of the vessel.

MICHAEL VINCENT: But international law expert Don Rothwell says the two activists could still face

DON ROTHWELL: First of all, it needs to be acknowledged that the boarding of any vessel on the high
seas, the unauthorised boarding of any vessel on the high seas in the current international
security climate, can be seen and interpreted as a very serious security breach and possibly a
breach of not only international law but also Japanese law.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Throughout last night furious diplomatic actions went on to free the two men. The
Japanese Government agreed the pair should be released but today it said there had been

NOBUTAKA MACHIMURA (Translated): As for the two in custody, we are trying to return them to the Sea
Shepherd but have not heard back from them.

MICHAEL VINCENT: But then events took another dramatic turn. The captain of the Sea Shepherd vessel
said he'd received a list of demands from the Japanese whaling ship.

It said his men, Australian Benjamin Potts and Briton Giles Lane, would only be handed back if the
activists stopped their protest actions and monitoring. Former Federal Environment Minister Ian
Campbell is now a spokesman for the Sea Shepherd organisation.

IAN CAMPBELL, SEA SHEPHERD CONSERVATION SOCIETY: They've escalated this into a very serious matter
now, they're now making demands of Captain Watson and Sea Shepherd, to say that they will only
gives these hostages back if Captain Watson agrees to certain circumstances. That really is an
outrageous action and it brings the Japanese whalers into even more international disrepute.

of our research vessels as well as our researchers and crews. Therefore, our condition is quite
simple - if our safety of our research vessels would be secured we are willing to release the two
intruders immediately.

MICHAEL VINCENT: As the stand-off continued, the Australian Government pressed for a quick

STEPHEN SMITH, FOREIGN MINISTER: We're dealing with the great distance of the Southern Ocean, the
capacity for adverse incidents is high and the capacity for rescue or assistance is low. And so I
now again this morning call upon both vessels - the Japanese whaling vessel and the 'Steve Irwin' -
to cooperate and to effect the speedy and the safe return to the 'Steve Irwin' of the two

MICHAEL VINCENT: The actions of these activists have drawn the eyes of the world on to Australia's
whale sanctuary.

(Excerpt from BBC news)

NEWS PRESENTER: A British man is one of two protesters being held tonight on a Japanese whaling
ship in Antarctic waters.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Despite yesterday's win in the Federal Court for anti-whaling activists there's a
widespread view that Japan is not legally bound by Australia's territorial claims.

DON ROTHWELL: Any attempt to arrest or detain a Japanese whaler within Australian waters offshore
Antarctica, I think would be seen to be in breach of the Antarctic treaty.

STEPHEN SMITH: There are difficulties of enforcement. The most effective way in our view to achieve
our public policy objective, which is to get the Japanese to cease the slaughter of whales in the
Southern Ocean, is through diplomatic means and the potential for international legal action.

MICHAEL VINCENT: More than 24 hours after the stand-off began, the activists remain on board the
whaling ship. Japanese authorities maintain they're eager to resolve the matter.

HAIDEKI MORONUK: We are willing to release those two activists as soon as possible because of the
humanity reason. So I think it's better for us now to contact the Government of Australia to assist
us to safely release the two activists to the Sea Shepherd or to the Australian Government.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Ironically, while the 'Yushin Maru' sails on with its uninvited guests, the whale
hunt which sparked the dispute appears to have been put on ice for now.

ALI MOORE: Michael Vincent with that report.