* Photo by Tim Hall.
High-Seas Drama: Demonstrators hold a banner during a rally against whaling on Front Street, Friday. A protest ship with links to Bermuda confronted a Japanese whaling vessel in the Antarctic yesterday, and held two sea-faring protesters after they boarded the ship.
* Photo by Tim Hall. High-Seas Drama: Demonstrators hold a banner during a rally against whaling on Front Street, Friday. A protest ship with links to Bermuda confronted a Japanese whaling vessel in the Antarctic yesterday, and held two sea-faring protesters after they boarded the ship.
A protest vessel with links to Bermuda was yesterday involved in high drama on the seas of Antarctica.

The 'Steve Irwin' - whose sister ship, the 'Farley Mowat', is stationed at Dockyard - tracked down and confronted a Japanese whaling vessel. Two protestors boarded the Japanese ship, where they were taken prisoner.

Paul Watson, captain of the 'Steve Irwin', was yesterday sending regular updates to Bermudians connected with the 'Farley Mowat'.

Mr. Watson reported that the two crew members had been beaten and tied to a mast on the Japanese ship.

The Japanese captain confirmed he had detained the pair - Australian Benjamin Potts and Briton Giles Lane - but said it was justified because it is illegal to board a foreign vessel on the high seas. He denied they had been mistreated.

Laura Dakin, 24, a Bermudian who makes regular protest trips on the 'Farley Mowat', has launched a campaign to have the two crew members released.

Ms Dakin is urging Bermudians to go to Par-la-Ville Park today, where they can sign a petition, which will be sent to the Japanese authorities.

She said: "We've been getting regular updates from Antarctica. What has happened is kidnapping. We are going to write to the Japanese Government urging them to release the pair and to stop whaling. I hope as many Bermudians as possible come and support us. The oceans belong to us all and they are dying."

The 'Steve Irwin' and the 'Farley Mowat' are both operated by the Sea Shepherd Campaign Group. On Friday, the Sea Shepherd group helped to organize a protest on Front Street.

The protest, coordinated by local conservationist Andrew Stevenson, was sparked by the arrival in Hamilton Harbour of a vessel operated by the Fisheries Agency of Japan.

Conservationists say the agency poses as a scientific body, but in fact co-ordinates the commercial fishing of endangered species. Around 50 people waved banners and chanted slogans during the protest on Friday.

Five vessels decked with protest slogans also patrolled the harbour. Mr. Stevenson - an author who is currently working on a documentary about humpback whales - yesterday said the protest had been a huge success.

He said the world - and particularly sea-loving Bermudians - are waking up to the fact that the oceans are under severe threat from destructive fishing practices. And he said that the world's attention was now on the Antarctic. He said: "This shows exactly the kind of people they [whalers] are. They pretend to be scientists, but that is just an excuse. There are brave people down there [aboard the 'Steve Irwin'] bringing these things to the attention of the world."

Mr. Stevenson said that whale hunting, and destructive long-line fishing and bottom trawling - also championed by the Fisheries Agency of Japan - threatened to "strip-mine" the oceans and deprive the next generation of their common inheritance.

A fleet of Japanese vessels intends to kill about 900 minke whales and 50 fin whales by mid-April. A court in Australia recently ruled that the hunt is illegal, but Tokyo has said it will ignore any such injunction.