AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Anti-whaling activists have asked the Dutch public prosecutor to launch a criminal investigation into a clash between protesters and Japanese whalers which led to the sinking of a protest boat.
The hardline Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has its mother ship registered in the Netherlands, said the Ady Gil powerboat sank in the Southern Ocean on Friday after its bow was sliced off on Wednesday by a Japanese harpoon vessel.
Each side has blamed the other for the incident in which one crewman aboard the protest boat was injured.
Liesbeth Zegveld, lawyer for the activist group, said it appeared the ship that struck the boat had been sent out with the specific purpose to prevent the protesters, including Dutchman Laurens de Groot, from reaching the whaling ships.
"We filed a complaint for criminal prosecution with our prosecutor, requesting the start of an investigation into what we consider to be a crime -- piracy, actually -- committing violence on the high seas," Zegveld said.
"This particular ship that attacked the Ady Gil was at a close distance all the time since they left the Australian harbor," Zegveld added. "It was sent out and equipped for following and harassing the Ady Gil."
Australia voiced official concern about safety in the Southern Ocean on Friday, and Canberra said it was keeping open the option of an international legal challenge to Japanese whaling if diplomacy failed to reach an outcome.
Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson said the Japanese whalers ignored all distress calls after the boat was crippled, with the six crew picked up by a second Sea Shepherd boat nearby.
Zegveld said the fact that the group's mother ship, the Steve Irwin, is Dutch-registered, combined with the presence of a Dutch citizen among the six crew on board the boat, provided a legal basis for pursuing a criminal case in the Netherlands.
She expected a response from the prosecutor within two weeks.
Reporting by Catherine Hornby, editing by Peter Millership