A stricken Sea Shepherd vessel floundering in the Southern Ocean was abandoned by an anti-whaling ship from the same fleet because of fears a sustained rescue would have revealed the location of the second ship to Japanese whalers.
The Bob Barker was the first to respond to a distress call from the Brigitte Bardot, damaged by a rogue wave in heavy seas on Wednesday evening, 2400km south-west of Fremantle.
In a secret operation yesterday morning, the Bob Barker reached the Brigitte Bardot, which had been taking in water and had a large crack on its port side.
The vessel handed over supplies, fuel and material to help with makeshift repairs and then left, leaving the crew of 10 on the damaged ship to wait another 10 hours for the Sea Shepherd's flagship, the Steve Irwin.
Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson defended the decision to abandon the Brigitte Bardot and its crew in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean, saying the group could not afford to let the Japanese fleet know where the Bob Barker was. The Japanese have tailed the Steve Irwin since Christmas Day but the Bob Barker has eluded detection.
The damaged vessel was asked by the Australian Maritime Safety Rescue Co-ordination Centre to switch on equipment that would enable it to be tracked as part of the rescue operation, a move Capt. Watson said could have exposed the Bob Barker to a tail.
"The Bob Barker had to get away from the Brigitte Bardot because we can't have the Japanese finding the Bob Barker," he said.
The Steve Irwin was scheduled to meet the damaged ship late last night and start towing it to Fremantle, a voyage of about six days.
Brigitte Bardot captain Jonathan Miles Renecle said yesterday there was only a "slim chance" the crew would have to abandon ship before the Steve Irwin reached it.
He said morale on the ship was good and the crew had strapped the cracked pontoon to the hull of the ship using ropes and ratchet straps.
"We took some serious damage to the stabilising pontoon, it is sort of hanging on by a thread," Capt. Renecle said. <div class="endnote">
See video from the Brigitte Bardot at </div>