Sea Shepherd Set to Launch New Anti-Whaling Mission In January

24/12/2015 4:59 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
JIJI PRESS via Getty Images
A Japanese whaling ship leaves the port of Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi prefecture, western Japan on December 1, 2015, to resume whale hunting in the Antarctic. A Japanese whaling fleet set sail for the Antarctic Ocean, intending to resume culls after a one-year pause, with environmentalists slamming the mission as a 'crime against nature'. Japan has hunted whales for centuries and their meat was once a key source of protein for the population, but consumption has dramatically declined as the country grew into one of the world's wealthiest economies. AFP PHOTO / JIJI PRESS JAPAN OUT / AFP / JIJI PRESS / JIJI PRESS (Photo credit should read JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

Sea Shepherd is gearing up for its annual Antarctic tussle with Japanese whaling vessels and this year it is also putting toothfish poaching on the agenda.

The environmental conservation group has harassed Japan's whale hunt in Antarctic waters for 11 years, and played a part in the north Asian nation abandoning its 2014-15 Southern Ocean hunt after the International Court of Justice (ICC) said the annual expedition was a commercial activity posing as research.

But with Japan resuming the controversial hunt in 2016, Sea Shepherd will once again taking to the ocean in an attempt to disrupt whaling boats.

The 2016 mission will also take aim at illegal fishing of Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish, under the banner Operation Icefish.

Sea Shepherd Captain Sid Chakravarty said the Steve Irwin would depart from Fremantle, Western Australia, in early January to patrol near Antarctica.

"We have two poaching operations we're looking at, one is the return of the Japanese whaling fleet to Antarctica and the other is the presence of two Interpol listed toothfishing vessels," Chakravarty said on Thursday.

"Both are operating illegally in those waters."

He said his team -- sometimes referred to as vigilantes of the ocean -- would attempt to directly intervene to stop illegal activity in the icy region.

"The Steve Irwin will be put either on the slipway of the 'Nisshin Maru' to stop the transfer of whales or they will be blocking the illegal fishing vessels from deploying their fishing gear," he said.

"Once the operations have been stopped the vessels will be pursued and documented with the evidence being provided to Interpol and other organisations such as the Australian Federal Police."

His comments come after Sea Shepherd on Wednesday attracted media attention after claims it sabotaged anti-shark drum lines on the NSW north coast.

The group has denied the claims, saying its members were falsely accused.

Meanwhile, another Antarctic clash between Japan and Australian conservationists is tipped to heighten tension between the two countries, which are on the brink of an historic defence deal related to submarine acquisitions.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull expressed disappointment at Japan's decision to resume whaling while on his first visit to the country as PM.

"Australia is very disappointed that Japan has resumed whaling in the Southern Ocean this year," he said at the time.

"We recognise that is a point of difference of opinion but we should be upfront and frank about our differences of opinion, put them on the table and deal with them, seek to resolve them."

According to Japanese reports, the nation's fisheries agency told the International Whaling Commission it would slash its annual minke catches by two-thirds to 333.

The Japanese whaling fleet set sail for the Antarctic earlier in December.

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