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Chinese warship ignores pleas and injures RAN divers with sonar ‘pulses’

HMAS Toowoomba, recently blitzed by a Chinese sonar attack, will be the first Australian vessel to take part.

HMAS Toowoomba, recently blitzed by a Chinese sonar attack, will be the first Australian vessel to take part. Photo: RAN

Days after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, a Chinese warship has endangered Australian divers as they worked to free HMAS Toowoomba’s snagged propeller.

The incident, which left the divers with minor injuries, has been denounced as  “unsafe and unprofessional” by Acting Prime Minister Richard Marles on Saturday.

The Australian government had expressed “serious concerns” to Chinese officials after the Tuesday encounter with the Chinese destroyer, which ignored pleas to steer clear in order to avoid endangering the Australian underwater repair crew.

The Toowoomba was in international waters in Japan’s exclusive economic zone and was on its way to a scheduled port visit when fishing nets became entangled around its propellers.

The ship stopped so naval divers could clear the nets and its crew communicated what it was doing through the usual maritime channels, Mr Marles said in a statement.

While the diving operation took place, the Chinese PLA-N destroyer DDG-139 came towards the Toowoomba, prompting its crew to reiterate a dive was underway and ask for the warship to stay clear.

Our divers endangered

The Chinese vessel acknowledged the message but came even closer, and was soon after detected operating its hull-mounted sonar, posing a risk to the Australian divers’ safety, Mr Marles said.

The divers, who were assessed after they surfaced, sustained minor injuries likely because they were subjected to the sonar pulses, he said.

“This is unsafe and unprofessional conduct,” Mr Marles said.

“The safety and wellbeing of our (Australian Defence Force) personnel continues to be our utmost priority.

“Australia expects all countries, including China, to operate their militaries in a professional and safe manner.”

The defence force has for decades undertaken surveillance in the region and does so in accordance with international law, Mr Marles said.

Albanese hails ‘warm discussion’

The incident comes as relations were stabilising between Australia and China following recent meetings between Anthony Albanese and Xi Jinping and China’s easing of punitive trade sanctions on Australian exports.

US President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping enjoyed a “warm discussion” smoothing over recent tensions, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says, describing it as positive news for the region.

Mr Albanese, who made no mention of the high seas incident, said he witnessed the informal conversation during the APEC summit in San Francisco, after Mr Biden described his Chinese counterpart as “a dictator” when responding to media questions.

“It is always good when dialogue occurs, and dialogue between the United States and China is very positive,” Mr Albanese told reporters on Saturday.

“After the meeting concluded, there was a very long discussion between President Biden and President Xi.

“It was a warm discussion that I witnessed, and it was very positive. The agreement on military to military communications is positive.”

-AAP

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