Australia claims divers were injured by Chinese navy’s ‘unsafe’ use of sonar

Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles (Dominic Lipinski/PA) Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Australia has accused the Chinese navy of likely causing minor injuries to a group of divers by operating its sonar while they were trying to clear fishing nets from their ship’s propellers.

The Australian government has expressed its serious concerns to Beijing over what it called the unsafe and unprofessional conduct earlier this week, Defence Minister Richard Marles said in a statement on his official website.

There was no immediate comment from the Chinese side. The US, Canadian and Australian militaries have complained multiple times about what they say have been dangerous actions by the Chinese navy and air force in the western Pacific.

Analysts fear a collision or other accident could spark an international incident and escalate into conflict.

The HMAS Toowoomba stopped in international waters on Tuesday in Japan’s exclusive economic zone after fishing nets became entangled in its propellers, the defence minister’s statement said.

The naval frigate had been helping to enforce UN sanctions in the region.

As diving operations were under way, a Chinese destroyer moved toward the Australian ship and was detected operating its hull-mounted sonar in a way that posed a risk to the divers and forced them to get out of the water, the statement said.

“The divers … sustained minor injuries likely due to being subjected to the sonar pulses from the Chinese destroyer,” it added.

Sonar uses sound waves to obtain an image in the water. At high levels, those can cause dizziness, hearing damage other organ damage.

Australian Senator James Paterson, a member of the opposition Liberal Party, noted the incident came shortly after a visit by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to Beijing to improve his country’s ties with China.

“On one hand, China says it wants a better relationship with Australia and on the other hand it takes dangerous manoeuvres that put the safety of Australian personnel at risk,” he told reporters.