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Australians Remove Anti-Whaling Protesters from Japanese Vessel

Two anti-whaling protesters who boarded a Japanese whaling ship in the Southern Ocean have been released. The transfer defuses a tense situation on the Antarctic seas, but activists say they will continue to harass the Japanese fleet. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

The transfer of the two campaigners Thursday has ended a tense standoff in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean.

The two men from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society had boarded the Japanese whaler Yushin Maru No. 2 on Tuesday. They ostensibly wanted to deliver a letter protesting the annual Japanese whale hunt, but the boarding - captured on video by their colleagues - was also meant to give international visibility to their anti-whaling campaign.

After jumping aboard the Japanese ship, Briton Giles Lane and Australian Benjamin Potts were detained by the Japanese crew for almost three days.

During that time the whaling fleet and the protesters traded accusations of kidnapping, piracy, and even "terrorism."

The Australian government finally offered to end the impasse by sending a customs ship, the Oceanic Viking, to retrieve the activists.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says the transfer worked smoothly because of Canberra's close diplomatic ties with Tokyo.

"If we didn't have such a strong relationship with Japan, then over the last couple of days we wouldn't have seen both the Australian government and the Japanese government at one wanting to secure and affect the safe and speedy transfer of Benjamin Potts and the U.K. national," said Smith.

The Japanese had offered earlier to send the men back to their ship, if the protesters would stop harassing the whaling fleet. The captain of the protest ship refused to accept the condition.

The men are now back on board the Sea Shepherd vessel. Potts, the Australian, says the campaign against the whalers will continue.

"Hopefully we'll continue with the chase until such time that we have to head back - same as before, we'll continue to harass the Japanese fleet and prevent them from whaling," he said.

The Japanese plan to kill about a thousand whales during the Antarctic summer. Now that the two Sea Shepherd members have been released, the controversial whaling expedition will resume.

The Australian government calls the whale hunt an unnecessary slaughter, while the Japanese say their fleet is conducting scientific research.

Australian police are investigating the actions of two men. Law experts say the pair are subject to Australian law, and could face a range of charges including a criminal act of terrorism.

Australia sent the Oceanic Viking to the Antarctic last month to collect evidence that could be used in international court action against the Japanese whaling program.