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Australian naval divers from the frigate HMAS Toowoomba conducting minor repairs in international waters near Japan were exposed to active sonar pulses from Chinese naval vessels, and reportedly sustained minor injuries.
Defense Minister Richard Marles stated that the Australian frigate warned vessels in the area that diving operations were underway. The HMAS Toowoomba was in international waters at the time and sailing towards Japan. He claimed that despite the communications, the Chinese vessel approached at a closer range, and was soon 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.
As reported by Interesting Engineering, it’s believed the divers suffered ear injuries from active sonar pulses. Jennifer Parker from the National Security College at the Australian National University explained that the sonar would have been incredibly loud for the divers under the hull, and surely disorientating. She added that it may create dizziness, generate headaches, and (depending on the range and type of exposure) could actually have soft-tissue injuries to organs.
Active sonars are used to help determine the location of submerged objects by emitting short bursts or pings of sound that travel through water and reflect off an object before returning to a receiver.
Sonar technology is incredibly crucial for submarines, warships, and other naval platforms. Is used to both navigate deep waters safely and avoid any obstacles, as well as to detect, classify, track, and attack underwater threats and targets (Anti-submarine warfare).
Nevertheless, Parker claims the “accident” was actually no accident at all, and that the Chinese vessel intentionally breached collision regulations as part of a larger trend of aggressive incidents in the region. “There certainly is a deliberate policy of the People’s Liberation Army undertaking aggressive maneuvers in the region,” she said.