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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 February 2007, 08:25 GMT
Japan turns down Greenpeace help
The Nisshin Maru ship (ICR)
Japanese officials say the ship is not listing nor leaking oil
Japan has rejected a plea by New Zealand to allow a Greenpeace vessel to tow its stricken whaling ship out of Antarctic waters.

Officials said there was no threat of environmental damage from the Nisshin Maru, which has been disabled by fire, despite earlier fears of oil leakage.

New Zealand has been calling for the ship to be moved to prevent any pollution of the pristine area.

Meanwhile one crew-member was confirmed dead in the fire.

The Japanese whalers have had a number of confrontations at sea with anti-whaling activists in recent days, but the authorities have ruled out any connection between the protests and the fire.

'Dead in the water'

The fire broke out on board the Nisshin Maru - an 8,000-tonne processing ship - just before daybreak on Thursday.

The body of seaman Kazutaka Makita, who went missing when the fire broke out, was found on Saturday.

Fisheries Agency official Hideki Moronuki told Reuters news agency that the fire had been almost put out, but it would be a while before it became clear how badly the engines had been affected and whether the ship would be able to sail.

Earlier, New Zealand's Conservation Minister Chris Carter said the ship was "dead in the water".

He pointed out that the ship was just 60 miles (100 km) from the world's biggest Adelie penguin colony at Cape Adare.

There are fears that it could start leaking fuel oil into the Ross Sea and damage the immediate environment.

Greenpeace urged Japan to accept its offer. "This is not a time to play politics from behind a desk in Tokyo," said Karli Thomas, from on board the Esperanza.

Greenpeace ship Esperanza
The Esperanza came within sight of the whaler on Saturday
But Japanese officials said there was no immediate cause for concern.

"There's no threat of oil leakage at all, and no worries over environmental pollution from the Nisshin Maru," said Kenji Masuda, of the Fisheries Agency.

Mr Moronuki said that if the ship failed to set sail on its own, it would get help from a Japanese tanker, which is alongside it.

The whaling fleet left for the Antarctic in December, and planned to hunt 850 minke whales and 10 fin whales until mid-March.

It has been involved in several clashes with the protest group the Sea Shepherd, leading Japanese officials to accuse the activists of behaving like pirates.

The Sea Shepherd's vessels were heading back to port for refuelling when the fire on the Nisshin Maru broke out.

The ICR admits the whaling mission is now up in the air while it waits to see if the Nisshin Maru - the only ship in the fleet able to process whale carcasses - is able to continue.

Greenpeace spokesman explains offer of help

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