This photo provided by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society shows the sheared off bow of the Ady Gil being inspected by crew member Laurens De Groot. Source: The Daily Telegraph
A CREWMAN aboard the anti-whaling ship rammed by a Japanese whaling vessel said it was "like looking death in the eye."
Laurens de Groot, 29, was standing on top of the Ady Gil when the collision happened in the Southern Ocean off coast of Antarctica yesterday afternoon.
"It was the most terrifying moment of my life – when you look up and there's the bow of a thousand-tonne steel ship hanging above you, about to split you in two. You're looking death straight in the eye.
"I was standing on the roof of our vessel. Thank God I could just jump out of the way as soon as the bow hit us.
"I fell on the aft deck of our ship and almost rolled off.
"They kept hosing us down with their water hoses as they rammed us. They were running us down and still hosing us."
Mr de Groot said the protest vessel was drifting at the time of crash, had the right of way and the Japanese ship was at fault.
"We decided to drift and let the Bob Barker pass by as well as the harpoon ships which were following the Bob Barker.
"I thought it was going to pass us by but it turned on its LRAD, long range accoustical device, it turned on its water hoses and we thought what's it going to do are they going to come past and try to intimidate us while we're just drifting here.
"We were letting them pass by and all of a sudden the ship just turned into us and t-boned us and cut our ship in two.
"Pete Bethune, our captain, immediately called out a mayday and the Bob Barker launched their boats and were able to save us. We grabbed our passports and by then the small boats had arrived."
He denied the protest vessel had manoeuvred into the path of the whaling ship.
"That sounds insane to me. We're here because we respect the sanctity of life, we respect life, we're not going to put our lives in front of a thousand tonne vessel with an 18 tonne carbon fibre ship.
"It is so clear. The footage shows it. We were drifting. We were not steering our vessel.
"We were not engaging the whaling fleet at the point that it happened. Those pictures you can see us on the roof of our ship waving at the Bob Barker.
"This ship, we've been hassling it, they might have been so pissed off that they thought 'let's intimidate these guys before they head off'. So they tried to pass us and the captain made a complete miscalculation and ran us over.
"Even if you look from a technical point of view, we have right of way."
The aft section of the Ady Gil is still afloat, Mr de Groot says the crew hope to tow it to the nearby French base at Dumont d'Urville before returning it to Hobart for salvage.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government will investigate the clash between a Japanese whaling boat and a Sea Shepherd vessel, as well as allegations that Australian planes have been used to abet the whalers.
Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) had been directed to investigate the incident, adding she was amazed no one was killed in the clash.
"We are strenuously opposed to whaling and strenuously opposed to violence at sea,'' Ms Gillard told reporters in Adelaide.
"We believe in the right to protest, but we believe in the right to peaceful protest.
"Having seen the video (of the collision) it concerns me deeply ... lives are at risk. In fact, it seems miraculous ... that lives were not lost during this incident.
"I have instructed the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to commence its own investigation.''
The results of the investigation will be made public, she said, calling for calm until all the facts are revealed.
The Australian government would not be sending a boat to monitor activities in the Southern Ocean, but it would continue to take advice on the situation as it unfolds, she said.
Ms Gillard said the Australian customs boat Oceanic Viking was sent to the region two years ago to observe and "it did not influence behaviour''.
Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt earlier today called for the Australian government immediately to send a non-military observation ship to the Southern Ocean.
The government has not ruled out taking international court action against whaling.
Before winning the last federal election, Labor promised to take international legal action to stop Japanese whaling.
No legal action has been taken, but Ms Gillard said the government continued to put its position to the Japanese government in a proper and legal way.
"If ultimately, the matter about whaling cannot be resolved diplomatically, then we reserve our rights to initiate international legal action,'' she said.
"This matter will not be resolved through violence at sea. It will ultimately be resolved through diplomacy or through the courts.''
Meanwhile, Ms Gillard said the government was investigating the alleged use of Australian aircraft to help commercial whaling operations by spotting anti-whaling activists' boats at sea.
Light planes went out from Western Australia and Tasmania to locate Sea Shepherd protest vessels on the high seas.
"If any action has taken place that is contrary to international law, then prosecutions will be taken and breaches will meet the full force of Australian law,'' Ms Gillard said.