The Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin has successfully left the Australian Economic Zone (EEZ) without any sign of the Japanese whaling fleet security ship Shonan Maru No. 2.

The Steve Irwin departed from Hobart at 1800 Hours on December 31st and took advantage of gale force winds and heavy swells to slip past the waiting Japanese vessel.

"It's a big ocean down here they have no idea where we are," said Captain Paul Watson.  "I'm now confident that we can proceed with our search for the Japanese whaling fleet without further interference from the Shonan Maru No. 2."

The Sea Shepherd vessel Ady Gil is patrolling the Southern Ocean in advance of the Steve Irwin in search of the fleet.

The Shonan Maru No. 2 was waiting for the Steve Irwin when it left Fremantle on December 7th. The Japanese had chartered an aircraft out of Albany to locate the conservation vessel. They then relayed the Steve Irwin's position to the Shonan Maru No. 2 to enable the Japanese security vessel to intercept the Steve Irwin.

The Steve Irwin was unable to lose the pursuit of the Shonan Maru No. 2 for more than two weeks. Only by returning to Tasmania was the tail lost because Japanese whaling ships are prohibited from entering Australian territorial waters.

"Thanks to the stormy weather, there was no possibility of a chartered flight locating the Steve Irwin and we were able to pass back into international waters without any sign of the Shonan Maru No. 2," said Captain Watson. "They will be hard pressed to locate us now and without them on our tail, I am confident that we will be able to track down the whale poachers in the Australian Antarctic Territory."

The Sea Shepherd crew hopes to find the whaling fleet as quickly as possible.

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