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Environmental group Sea Shepherd has filed a suit against the crew of Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru alleging piracy and attempted manslaughter after they clashed in the Antarctic Ocean in February, their lawyers said on Thursday.
"We hereby lodge a suit for piracy, violence and destruction and attempted manslaughter on February 20 and 25 by Captain Tomoyuki Ogawa and the rest of the crew," lawyers Liesbeth Zegveld and Tomasz Kodrzycki said in court documents obtained by AFP.
The suit was filed in a Netherlands court because the ships concerned, the Steve Irwin and Bob Barker, are Dutch-flagged.
"On February 20 and 25, the Sea Shepherd boats were able to prevent an illegal refuelling operation by Nisshin Maru," the lawyers said in a statement.
"The Nisshin Maru's captain then attacked these boats by repeatedly ramming them, by using water canon to flood the engine room and sabotage the engines and by throwing explosives," they said.
A similar suit was filed by Sea Shepherd in the Netherlands in 2010 but prosecutors did not follow it up with a case.
Lawyers hope that the fact the two Sea Shepherd ships are registered in the Netherlands will help this time round.
The latest legal broadside in the long-running conflict between Sea Shepherd and Japanese whalers comes after the anti-whaling fleet on Wednesday docked in Australia after another bitter campaign in the isolated Southern Ocean.
The ships Steve Irwin, Bob Barker and Sam Simon suffered an estimated one-million-dollar damage bill after run-ins with Japanese whalers since leaving port in November.
Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research has in turn accused Sea Shepherd boats of ramming the Nisshin Maru.
A US appeals court in February labelled Sea Shepherd as pirates, overturning a lower court's ruling against Japanese whalers.
The same court in December ordered Sea Shepherd to maintain a distance of 500 metres (yards) from Japanese whaling ships.
Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research and others are pursuing legal action in the United States, seeking an injunction against their activities on the high seas.
Japan claims it conducts vital scientific research using a loophole in an international whaling ban agreed at the International Whaling Commission (IWC), but makes no secret that the mammals ultimately end up on dinner plates.
Japan defends whaling as a tradition and accuses Western critics of disrespecting its culture. Norway and Iceland are the only nations that hunt whales in open defiance of a 1986 IWC moratorium on commercial whaling.