The Japanese security vessel Shonan Maru No 2, on which three Australian anti-whaling activists are being held.CANBERRA – The federal government is under pressure to take swift action to secure the release of three Australian activists detained aboard a Japanese whaling security ship.

But the government has moved to lower expectations of what it can do and has conceded that the men could be taken to Japan to face legal action.

The West Australian men from the Forest Rescue environmental group boarded the Japanese security vessel Shonan Maru No 2 in waters off the coast of Bunbury overnight.

The daring mission was aimed at forcing the vessel to stop tailing the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s anti-whaling flagship, the Steve Irwin.

The men climbed past razorwire and spikes to board the ship and deliver a message: “Return us to shore in Australia and then remove yourself from our waters.”

But the Shonan Maru No 2 yesterday afternoon was instead persisting with its pursuit of the Steve Irwin, with the Australians still on board.

The three activists have been named as Geoffrey Owen Tuxworth, 47, of Perth, Simon Peterffy, 44, of Bunbury, and Glen Pendlebury, 27, of Fremantle.

A spokesman for the Japanese whaling program at the Institute of Cetacean Research, Glenn Inwood, confirmed that the men were still aboard the vessel.

“They are unhurt, they are being questioned and there has been no decision on anything beyond that at this stage,” New Zealand-based Mr Inwood said.

He said the men had boarded the vessel well outside Australian territorial waters – about 40 kilometres from the coast – and any suggestion otherwise was false.

The Sea Shepherd and Forest Rescue say the incident happened 16.2 miles off the coast – outside territorial waters but inside Australia’s 24-mile contiguous zone.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said Australia’s embassy in Tokyo had contacted the Japanese government seeking more information, most pressingly the vessel’s location.

“If this vessel is close to Australian waters, you’d think there was a possibility that (they) would promptly have discussions with us about a safe and immediate return,” Ms Roxon said.

“There are a range of different options that could occur for the transfer of these people back into Australian control.”

But Ms Roxon expressed no confidence that this would happen, saying the government’s options were restricted because the incident happened outside territorial waters.

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