Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Australia is keeping a close eye on a Chinese warship spotted off Western Australia’s coast far away from Chinese waters.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton has claimed the incident is an “aggressive act” but Mr Morrison said the ship had not broken freedom of navigation rules.
The ship has been tracked by Australian authorities over the past week and was sighted off on Friday at 6am about 250 nautical miles northwest of Broome.It crossed Australia’s exclusive economic zone passing the naval communication centre in Exmouth and getting within 100-kilometres of the base.
Mr Morrison described the behaviour as “unusual” but said the ship had not entered into Australia’s waters.
“What these events highlight is the serious times in which we live,” Mr Morrison told reporters.
“They’re looking at us and we’re keeping a close eye on them.”
Mr Dutton said the ship, which has intelligence-gathering capabilities appeared to be “hugging the coastline”.
“It is unusual in terms of the way in which it has come so far south and the way it’s hugging the coastline as it heads up in the direction of Darwin,” he said.
“It is an aggressive act particularly because it has come so far south — for it to come south of Exmouth is without precedent.
“Labor senator Murray Watt also described the situation as a “serious matter”, which he said the opposition took “very seriously”.
“We have sought a briefing from the federal government to better understand the facts of the situation,” he told the ABC.
Mr Dutton said Australian authorities were monitoring the situation closely, with planes and other surveillance equipment monitoring the vessel.
The Department of Defence confirmed the ship was a Dongdiao class auxiliary intelligence ship called Haiwangxing (Neptune), which was also spotted off the Australian coast in 2021.
The ship travelled down the west coast towards Exmouth before tracking east along the country’s northwest coast.
“Australia respects the right of all states to exercise freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace, just as we expect others to respect our right to do the same,” a defence spokesman said.
“Defence will continue to monitor the ship’s operation in our maritime approaches.”
Despite the timing of the announcement eight days out from the federal election, Mr Dutton said the announcement had nothing to do with the campaign.
“We’ve had vessels in our waters this year and we’ve made the public aware of those,” he said.
“Australians deserve to know what is taking place.” – from Gil May