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Australian navy divers injured by sonar pulses after Chinese destroyer came near it despite warnings and deployed powerful sonar

Defence Minister of Australia said, "Chinese warship was detected operating its hull-mounted sonar in a manner that posed a risk to the safety of the Australian divers who were forced to exit the water."

On Saturday (18th November) Australia’s government conveyed serious apprehensions to China following a perilous encounter between an Australian navy vessel and a Chinese warship that resulted in injuries to Australian military divers. Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles termed the interaction as “unsafe and unprofessional.”

On 14th November, the HMAS Toowoomba, a long-range frigate of the Australian Navy, which was heading towards a scheduled port visit, had to stop within Japan’s exclusive economic zone after fishing got entangled with its propellers. Navy divers dived into the eater to clear the fishing nets from the propellers. During this time, a destroyer of the Chinese navy that was operating nearby headed towards the Australian ship and deployed its powerful sonar, injuring the divers.

According to Marles, despite notifying the Chinese warship of the ongoing diving operation and requesting it to maintain a safe distance, the PLA-N destroyer (DDG-139) closed in at an uncomfortably close range and deployed its hull-mounted sonar.

After the Australian crew noticed the approaching Chinese vessel, they reiterated the request to maintain distance, and the Chinese vessel acknowledged the same, but still continued heading towards the frigate. The Chinese destroyer then started operating its sonar, the pulses of which hit the divers, forcing them to surface. The divers were assessed after they came up, and they had sustained minor injuries, likely from sonar pulses.

“Soon after, it was detected operating its hull-mounted sonar in a manner that posed a risk to the safety of the Australian divers who were forced to exit the water,” stated Marles. The Defense Minister emphasised that such conduct was both “unsafe and unprofessional.”

The Chinese embassy in Australia has not yet responded to requests for comment. Medical assessments revealed minor injuries to the ears of the divers, likely caused by the destroyer’s sonar pulses.

Marles asserted, “Australia expects all countries, including China, to operate their militaries in a professional and safe manner,” underlining the Australian government’s commitment to the safety and well-being of Australian military personnel.

The Diving Medical Advisory Committee, an independent London-based organisation, has previously warned about the potential dangers of sonar sound waves, which can cause divers to suffer dizziness, hearing damage, and organ damage.

The incident occurred during Operation Argos, where the Australian ship was enforcing sanctions against North Korea as part of a regional presence deployment.

Notably, while the incident took place on Tuesday, the Australian govt chose to disclose it on Saturday, after PM Anthony Albanese met Chinese President Xi Jinping at the APEC summit in San Fransisco. It is not known if Albanese discussed the matter with Xi. Deputy PM Richard Marles, who is the acting PM as Albanese is visiting the US, said that the federal government had expressed “serious concerns” to the Chinese government.

In recent years, China has become more assertive in the Indo-Pacific region, heightening security ties with countries like the Solomon Islands. Australia, a close ally of the United States, conducted war games earlier this year involving over 30,000 troops in response to China’s growing regional influence.

Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, amid the maritime incident, revealed that he had invited China’s Premier Li Qiang to visit Australia. Despite recent positive meetings between Albanese and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the maritime incident underscores the complexities in the Australia-China relationship.

Albanese, who visited Beijing in early November, discussed the possibility of Premier Li visiting Australia in the coming year. Additionally, he urged Xi to lift remaining trade restrictions on Australian products. China is Australia’s largest trading partner, and diplomatic relations faced challenges in 2020 due to economic pressures imposed by Beijing.

Australia’s change in leadership has led to a thaw in relations, with China removing most restrictions since Albanese assumed office in May 2022.

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
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