The San Juan Islands-based anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd has released video of what they say is two of their boats being intentionally rammed by a Japanese ship in Australian Antarctic waters.

Sea Shepherd said the attacks on the Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker on Wednesday happened after they were ordered to leave the area by one of the boats in the Japanese whaling fleet.

Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research confirmed that one of its factory ships, the Nisshin Maru, hit two boats belonging to Sea Shepherd, but said the collisions happened after activists came too close to the Japanese vessel, which was refuelling.

SS sabotaged refueling operation which is essential for the safe navigation of ships. Thus it threatens safety of our research ships and lives of crews on it and is therefore unacceptable, ICR said.

Sea Shepherd said the Nishhin Maru is eight times the size of the Steve Irwin. They said the Bob Barker had damage to its masts, radar and navigation lights, and had structural damage to its decks.

Collisions cannot be provoked and there is no way a ship s captain can excuse ramming four ships with claims of provocation, the group said.

The Instute of Cetacean Research says Japan s research whaling in the Antarctic is a perfectly legal activity carried out under the International Whaling Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

A statement by ICR following Wednesday's incident called on all countries that are flag states and/or port states of Sea Shepherd vessels to take every measure available to restrain them and deal with their criminal actions in a strict and objective manner.

Reports say Japan has temporarily suspended its annual whale hunt in the Southern Ocean.

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