Australia maintain South China Sea patrols despite encounter with Chinese navy

The frigate HMAS Toowoomba, one of the three Australian Navy ships to make four-day port call in Vietnam, is docked at Saigon port in Ho Chi Minh City. (The Anh/Vietnam News Agency via AP)
Updated 20 April 2018
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Australia maintain South China Sea patrols despite encounter with Chinese navy

CANBERRA, Australia: Australia’s prime minister said his country has a “perfect right” to traverse the South China Sea after a media report Friday that the Chinese navy challenged three Australian warships in the hotly contested waterway.
The Chinese “challenged” two Australian frigates and an oil replenishment ship this month as the Australian vessels were sailing to Vietnam, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported, citing anonymous defense officials.
It is not clear what took place during the encounter while China was conducting its largest ever naval exercises in the region.
China’s Defense Ministry defended its navy’s actions, saying the report “does not conform with the facts.”
On April 15, ships from the Chinese and Australian navies “encountered each other in the South China Sea,” it said in a statement. “The Chinese ships employed professional language in communicating with the Australian side, operated legally and according to regulation, professionally and safely,” the statement said.
No details were given about what was communicated during the exchange or if any other actions were taken.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and has built several islands to bolster its position in the waterway where other governments have competing claims and which is one of the world’s busiest sea lanes.
Australia has resisted pressure from the US, its most important defense ally, to challenge the Chinese territorial zones, which are not recognized by international law. US Navy vessels regularly sail close to Chinese-built features that include military installations, drawing protests from Beijing.
“We maintain and practice the right of freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the world and, in this context, we’re talking about naval vessels on the world’s oceans, including the South China Sea, as is our perfect right in accordance with international law,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said. He did not comment on the specific incident when questioned by reporters in London.
The Defense Department said it did not provide operational details related to ships transiting the South China Sea. But it confirmed the three warships had arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on Thursday. They are making a three-day goodwill visit to Vietnam.
Neil James, executive director of the Australian Defense Association, a security policy think-tank, said the first aspect of such a challenge was usually a radio warning that the Australians were in Chinese territorial waters and a demand for identification. The Australians would have replied that they were in international waters.
The next levels of challenge involve sending an aircraft and ship to investigate.
“It just escalates. Eventually if they’re in your territorial waters and they’re not meant to be there, you might fire a shot across their bows — but no one has done that for years, apart from the North Koreans,” James said.
Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of US forces in the Pacific, has invited Australia to mount joint naval patrols in the South China Sea and has described China as “a disruptive transnational force.”
President Donald Trump has nominated the outspoken critic of China as the next US ambassador to Australia.


Student gunman kills 17 at Crimea college

Updated 21 min 34 sec ago
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Student gunman kills 17 at Crimea college

  • The attacker Vladislav Roslyakov was caught on security cameras entering the college with a rifle and firing at students
  • Russian officials at first reported a gas explosion, then said an explosive device ripped through the college canteen

MOSCOW: A student attacked a vocational college Wednesday in Crimea in a rampage that killed 18 other students and left more than 40 people wounded, before killing himself.
The attack took place at the Kerch Polytechnic College in the Black Sea city of Kerch.
Sergei Aksyonov, the regional leader in Crimea, said on television that the student, a local man acting alone, killed himself after the attack.
Russian officials at first reported a gas explosion, then said an explosive device ripped through the college canteen about lunchtime in a suspected terrorist attack. But witnesses, however, reported that at least some of the victims were killed in an attack by a gunman or gunmen.
The Investigative Committee identified the attacker as Vladislav Roslyakov, 18. It said he was caught on security cameras entering the college with a rifle and firing at students. The committee said all the victims have died of gunshot wounds.
After the attack, local officials declared a state of emergency on the Black Sea peninsula that they had annexed from Ukraine in 2014. They also beefed up security at a new 19-kilometer bridge that links the peninsula with Russia that opened earlier this year.
Military units were deployed around the college.
Earlier, Russia’s Investigative Committee, the nation’s top investigative agency, said an explosive device that went off at the college’s canteen was rigged with shrapnel. It was not immediately clear if the alleged attacker had detonated the explosive device.
Sergei Melikov, a deputy chief of the Russian National Guard, said the explosive device was homemade. Explosives experts were inspecting the college building for other possible bombs, according to Anti-Terrorism Committee spokesman Andrei Przhezdomsky.
Earlier in the day, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters that officials are looking into a possible terrorist attack. He did not elaborate. Peskov said Putin has instructed investigators and intelligence agencies to conduct a thorough probe and offered condolences to the families of the victims.
Witnesses did not speak of an explosion but said one or more armed men attacked the school.
The Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper quoted student Semyon Gavrilov, who said he fell asleep during a lecture and woke up to the sound of shooting. He said he looked out and saw a young man with a rifle shooting at people.
“I locked the door, hoping he wouldn’t hear me,” the paper quoted Gavrilov as saying.
He said police arrived about 10 minutes later to evacuate people from the college and he saw dead bodies on the floor and charred walls, presumably from some fire or explosion.
Another student, Yuri Kerpek, told the state RIA Novosti news agency that the shooting went on for about 15 minutes.
Olga Grebennikova, director of the vocational college, told KerchNet TV that men armed with automatic rifles burst into the college and “killed everyone they saw.” Grebennikova, who said she had left the grounds shortly before the attack occurred, said students and staff were among victims.
Russia’s Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova headed to the area to help coordinate assistance to the wounded and helicopters carrying emergency medical teams flew to the area.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine triggered Western sanctions. Russia has also supported separatists fighting the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine, a conflict that has left at least 10,000 people dead since 2014.
Over the past few years, Russian security agencies have arrested several Ukrainians accused of plotting terror attacks in Crimea, but no attacks have occurred.