The clash was apparently the most serious in the several years that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has sent vessels into far southern waters to try to harass the Japanese fleet into ceasing its annual whale cull.

A ship in the Japanese whaling fleet collided with a much smaller boat from a conservation group in the frigid waters of Antarctica on Wednesday and the boat was sinking, the group said. The boat’s six-person crew were safely rescued.

The clash was apparently the most serious in the several years that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has sent vessels into far southern waters to try to harass the Japanese fleet into ceasing its annual whale cull.

Clashes using hand-thrown stink bombs, ropes meant to tangle propellers and high-tech sound equipment have been common in recent years, and collisions between ships have sometimes happened.

The society said its boat Ady Gil - a high tech speed boat that resembles a stealth bomber - was hit by the Japanese ship Shonan Maru near Commonwealth Bay.

“The condition of the Ady Gil now is that it is inoperable and the crew of the Ady Gil has been transferred to our other vessel, the Bob Barker,” Locky Maclean, the first mate of the society’s lead ship told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The Ady Gil’s captain had stayed on board to try to save equipment from the boat “before it floods too severely,” he said.

Sea Shepherd sends boats to Antarctic waters each year to try to stop the Japanese whaling fleet killing whales in the region under what it calls a scientific whaling program. Conservationists and many countries say the program is a front for commercial whaling.

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