KEY POINTS

  • The ship was last seen 250 nautical miles northwest of Broome
  • The Defense Department confirmed it was “monitoring” the ship by air and sea
  • There has been no response from Chinese officials so far about the matter

Australia's Defense Minister Peter Dutton has labeled the presence of a high-tech Chinese surveillance ship off the western coast of the country as an "act of aggression."

The vessel, first spotted a week ago, was detected near Exmouth where a joint Australian and United States naval intelligence station was based, reports said Friday.

“It’s a Chinese warship with intelligence gathering capabilities … it’s very unusual, we haven’t seen a ship from the People’s Liberation Army come this far south,” Dutton told reporters in Perth on Friday, according to Sky News. “Its intention, of course, is to collect intelligence right along the coastline.”

China is required to follow international protocol, under which Australian authorities must be informed and made aware before the vessel makes such movements. However, Dutton said no such thing happened.

“It is strange timing and without precedent that this vessel would come so far south and that it is tracking essentially hugging the coastline, heading up in the direction of Darwin, is not a usual practice, and we are monitoring it very closely.”

The ship was last seen 250 nautical miles northwest of Broome and is tracking northeast.

“I think it is an act of aggression,” Dutton added.

Dutton, however, faced several questions as to why the information was being made public only Friday as he knew about the ship’s presence in Australian waters a week ago. 

He responded by saying the disclosure was made to keep the transparency in line with standard practice. 

“I think Australians deserve to know what is taking place and, as I say, it is a repeat of a previous practice where we have made the public aware of these activities before,” he said. 

In a statement, the Defense Department confirmed it was “actively monitoring” the ship by air and sea. 

“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,” it said, according to News.com.au. “Defense will continue to monitor the ship’s operation in our maritime approaches.”

There has been no response from Chinese officials so far about the matter.

China Australia This is a representational image. Photo: POOL / LUKAS COCH