Australian Navy Divers Sustain Minor Injuries from Chinese Destroyer Sonar Pulses in Japan’s EEC

According to the Australian Minister of Defense today, on November 14th, the HMAS Toowoomba ANZAC class frigate had an “unsafe and unprofessional” interaction with a Chinese PLA-N destroyer, claimed to be DD-139 Ningbo, in Japan’s EEC during Australian naval operations “in support of a United nations sanctions enforcement” where they had “stopped to conduct diving operations in order to clear fishing nets entangled around its propellers” while enroute to a scheduled port visit. They say that the Chinese destroyer had used hull-mounted sonar to pulse their divers while they were underwater despite the vessel acknowledging Toowomba communications about the dive which resulted in Royal Australian Navy divers attached to the frigate sustaining minor injuries.

Australian Minister of Defense Press Release November 18th:

“The Australian Government has expressed its serious concerns to the Chinese Government following an unsafe and unprofessional interaction with a People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N) destroyer.

On Tuesday 14 November 2023, HMAS Toowoomba was in international waters inside of Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone enroute to commence a scheduled port visit.

HMAS Toowoomba had been in the region conducting operations in support of United Nations sanctions enforcement. It had stopped to conduct diving operations in order to clear fishing nets that had become entangled around its propellers.

At all times, HMAS Toowoomba communicated its intention to conduct diving operations on normal maritime channels, and using internationally recognised signals.

While diving operations were underway a PLA-N destroyer (DDG-139) operating in the vicinity closed towards HMAS Toowoomba. Toowoomba again advised the PLA-N destroyer that diving operations were being conducted and requested the ship keep clear.

Despite acknowledging Toowoomba’s communications, the Chinese vessel approached at a closer range. 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.

This is unsafe and unprofessional conduct.

Medical assessments conducted after the divers exited the water identified they had sustained minor injuries likely due to being subjected to the sonar pulses from the Chinese destroyer.

The safety and wellbeing of our ADF personnel continues to be of our utmost priority.

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

Defence has for decades undertaken maritime surveillance activities in the region and does so in accordance with international law, exercising the right to freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace.”

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