Photo: The three Forest Rescue activists (identity order in photo unavailable) who boarded the Japanese whaling vessel Shonan Maru 2 off the coast of Australia on January 7, 2012. (AFP: Sea Shepherd)

The Australian Government says it is doing everything it can to try to ensure the safe release of three anti-whaling activists being held onboard a Japanese surveillance boat.

Anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd helped the three men, who are from the environmental group Forest Rescue, sneak on board the Shonan Maru 2 off the coast of Western Australia overnight.

“The three negotiated their way past the razor wire and spikes and over the rails of the Japanese whaling vessel,” Sea Shepherd said in a statement.

The men, named as Simon Peterffy, 44, Geoffrey Tuxworth, 47 and Glen Pendlebury, 27, carried with them a message reading: “Return us to shore in Australia and then remove yourself from our waters.”

The Shonan Maru 2 is used to tail anti-whaling ships and is currently pursuing Sea Shepherd’s ship the Steve Irwin.

The trio boarded the vessel in the hope that it would be forced to return them to shore and abandon shadowing the Steve Irwin, however this has not been the case.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon says it is possible the men will be taken to Japan, where they could face penalties under Japanese law.

“We hope that it won’t come to that but you do have to look at the past to know that it is likely these three Australians may be taken back to Japan,” she said.

Whaling boats are banned from docking at Australian ports, but Ms Roxon says the Government could make an exception for the Shonan Maru 2.

“Because it is a boat that appears to be assisting whaling boats although not a whaling vessel itself,” she said.

“At this stage the boat hasn’t sought to come into port. We may of course in coming days want to have discussions to do just that.”

Ms Roxon says Government officials are in talks with Japanese authorities and the men’s safety is the “top priority”

“We are in diplomatic discussions, we hope there will be an opportunity to ensure their safety and well being soon,” she said.

Full story, ABC Online HERE, with VIDEO

• Tuesday, ABC Online: Japan to hand activists to Australian authorities