Australia’s frigate in ‘unsafe’ interaction with China’s destroyer

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.

Australian Navy

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 conducting 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 recognized signals.

While diving operations were underway a PLA-N destroyer (DDG-139) operating in the vicinity closed towards HMAS Toowoomba. The frigate 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, the government highlighted.

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,” the officials noted.