New footage taken by fishermen shows the flagship of the Sea Shepherd tuna conservation campaign, the Steve Irwin, deliberately ramming a tuna cage even though there were men on the gangway of the cage.

The footage appears to belie claims by the Sea Shepherd that its ship was pushed onto the cage when it was hit by the fishermen' vessel.

Meanwhile, it had also emerged that Libya's assistance to fishermen towing tuna toMalta last weekend was prompted by a diplomatic request sent to the Libyan European Affairs Directorate.

The directorate was contacted soon after the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's ship Steve Irwin was seen approaching a pen being towed by the Cesare Rustico last Saturday morning, sources said.

Meanwhile, the Libyan Search and Rescue Centre, which was responsible for the waters where the ships were located, was informed of their coordinates by the Armed Forces of Malta and Malta's Embassy in Tripoli.

This prompted the Libyan Navy to sail out to assist the fishermen, warding the activists off when they spotted the patrol boats on their radars and realised their helicopter was being tracked.

This was in stark contrast to what happened the previous Thursday, when assistance was not forthcoming despite military and diplomatic warnings of a possible clash before it even began.

Described as an act of piracy by the fishermen, the activists rammed a pen to free the tuna it believed had been caught illegally.

In fact, two injured divers had to be flown to Mater Dei Hospital by the Italian Military Mission in Malta after the ship carrying them was instructed to sail towards the island by the Armed Forces of Malta.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi has pledged to protect fishermen going about their business and observing the law, after the armed forces intervened to defend tuna pens against conservationists' attacks, including one launched last week by Greenpeace.

Meanwhile, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has brushed aside a diplomatic letter sent to the Netherlands asking that country's government to look into last week's clash and reconsider the registration of the society's ship.

"We are confident we will not have any problems with the registry," said Captain Paul Watson.

"Japan constantly complains about our confrontations with its whaling fleet and has done so for years," he continued.

The society's ship, the Steve Irwin, continues to fly the red, white and blue flag of Holland.

In the letter sent through the embassy in the Hague, the government complained that the activists' actions were anything but peaceful, as they had claimed.

"The aggression on the property of tuna operators was unprovoked and premeditated," read the correspondence.

The government pointed out that during the protest, in which hundreds of tuna were freed from a pen being towed to the island, two divers were injured and had to be airlifted to hospital.

Fish and Fish estimates the activists managed to free 600 bluefin tuna weighing some 35 tons and costing €400,000. Another 200 fish, weighing 30 tons, had been transferred to another cage before the attack.

The cost of the lost fish coupled with the damage caused during Thursday's incident is estimated to surpass €1 million.

Capt. Watson trawler, the Rosaria Tuna, for ramming his ship into the tuna pens.

"At the same time, a crew member assaulted our crew with a long pole with a sharp hook on the end," he continued.

In light of this, Capt. Watson said the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society would also be writing to the Netherlands reporting that the fishermen deliberately damaged his ship, and this was supported by video and photographic evidence.

The bluefin tuna season for purse seiners was closed by the European Commission at midnight on June 10 because the quotas were exhausted. Fishing could still continue by traditional means, including long-lines used by Maltese fishermen.

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