Australia Raises Alarms over China’s Sonar Beam Incident with Divers

Australia Raises Alarms over China’s Sonar Beam Incident with Divers

Australian naval personnel sustained minor injuries during an “unsafe and unprofessional” encounter with a Chinese warship in international waters off Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) on Tuesday, November 14. The incident has prompted Canberra to lodge a formal protest with Beijing, urging the Chinese military to exercise greater caution and adhere to international maritime regulations.

According to Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles, the HMAS Toowoomba was en route to a scheduled port visit in Japan when it encountered fishing nets entangled in its propellers. Divers were deployed to clear the nets, and standard maritime notifications were issued to inform other vessels in the vicinity.

Unexpectedly, a People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) destroyer, identified as DDG-139, approached the Australian vessel in an unusually close manner. Despite repeated warnings from the Australian crew, the Chinese warship proceeded to activate its hull-mounted sonar, emitting high-powered underwater sound waves that posed a significant risk to the divers’ safety.

The Australian divers were forced to exit the water immediately due to the potential for decompression sickness or even death caused by exposure to the sonar pulses. Upon surfacing, they were assessed and found to have sustained minor injuries.

Minister Marles strongly condemned the Chinese warship’s actions, characterizing them as “unsafe and unprofessional.” He emphasized the Australian government’s paramount concern for the safety and well-being of its military personnel and reiterated the importance of all nations adhering to international maritime rules to ensure the safety of all vessels and personnel at sea.

The incident comes at a delicate time in the Australia-China relationship, following Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s much-anticipated visit to Beijing earlier this month. While both sides expressed a desire to stabilize bilateral relations, Beijing has made clear that any reconciliation will come with conditions.

Canberra remains hopeful that China will ease its trade restrictions on Australian goods, which were imposed during the tenure of former Prime Minister Scott Morrison. However, the close encounter with the Chinese warship serves as a reminder of the potential for friction between the two nations, particularly in the increasingly contested waters of the Indo-Pacific region.