Japan expressed outrage on Friday after anti-whaling activists poured acid on the decks of a whaling ship in the Southern Ocean and slightly injured two crew members, terming their actions "piratical, terrorist acts."
After the clash, two protesters from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an environmental group chasing the Japanese whalers, tied their boat to an iceberg for protection from icy winds as they drifted in fog after the inflatable was damaged.
The Japanese whaling boat, the Nisshin Maru, joined the search for the men, who were rescued safely eight hours later.
Sea Shepherd then resumed its pursuit of Japan's whaling fleet, a senior official at Japan's Fisheries Agency said. "These are completely piratical, dangerous acts," said Hideki Moronuki. "They are also very dangerous, and we want them to stop this immediately."
Sea Shepherd said on its Web site that it had "successfully delivered" 1.6 gallons of butyric acid to the ship's flensing deck, where whales are cut up, halting the crew's work.
Two Japanese crewmen were injured, one when he was hit in the face by an empty container of acid and the other when acid was squirted into one of his eyes.
Butyric acid, which Sea Shepherd said was non-toxic, is a corrosive chemical and contact can cause severe irritation and burns of the eyes and skin, leading to permanent damage.
Drain outlets plugged up
Activists in inflatable speed boats also used nail guns to fasten plates over the Nisshin Maru's drain outlets, which spill whale blood into the sea.
Moronuki said one of the Japanese crewmen was having difficulty opening his eye and the full extent of his injuries had yet to be determined. The other had a cut on his face, but neither appeared to be seriously hurt.
One of the two protesters who went missing, American John Gravois, told Australian Associated Press they were trying to damage the propeller of the Japanese ship but got too close and collided.
He said that he and Australian Karl Neilsen were quickly left behind and became lost when they were unable to use their radio to contact the Sea Shepherd's flagship, the Farley Mowat.
Gravois said the two men, who wore wetsuits under survival suits, lassoed an iceberg to ensure they stayed protected from the wind and to stop them drifting away.
"When they found us it was a feeling of the most extreme relief that you can imagine," Gravois said from the Farley Mowat.
Japanese put chase on pause
Sea Shepherd said on its Web site that it had called the Japanese ship to thank it for its help.
Sea Shepherd founder and skipper Paul Watson said when he thanked the crew of the Nisshin Maru for their help, "they were very professional. They just said they'd wait for us (to resume the protest).
"I said, 'I guess we're back on schedule, and we'll be pursuing you again,'" Watson said.
The group added that it had been searching for the Japanese whaling fleet for five weeks and finally found them on Friday morning. The group had offered $25,000 for information on the location of the Japanese fleet.
Last week, the group said the second of its two ships was going to be deregistered by Britain. Its flagship, the Farley Mowat, had its registration revoked by Belize in December.
A global moratorium on commercial whaling has existed since 1986, but Japan kills hundreds of whales each year under a scientific whaling program. Iceland and Norway are the only countries to ignore the moratorium and conduct commercial hunts.
Japan has called a special meeting of members of the International Whaling Commission this month in an attempt to help lift the whaling moratorium, but 26 anti-whaling nations, including Australia, have vowed to boycott the meeting.