Aussie navy pilots hit by lasers over South China Sea: Report, Latest World News - The New Paper

Aussie navy pilots hit by lasers over South China Sea: Report

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SYDNEY: Australian navy pilots were hit by lasers during flights in the hotly contested South China Sea, the national broadcaster reported yesterday, with informal Chinese militia vessels believed to be behind the attacks.

Beijing has become more assertive in the area, stoking tensions with rival claimants in South-east Asia as well as Canberra and Washington - traditionally the dominant naval and air power in the Asia-Pacific region.

Defence sources told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that helicopters were targeted during night flights, forcing the pilots to temporarily return to their ship for medical check-ups.

The broadcaster did not detail why the pilots sought check-ups and how exactly the helicopters were targeted.

The laser attacks were believed to have come from fishing boats, but the broadcaster said it was not yet formally confirmed if they were Chinese-flagged vessels.

Analysts have said China operates a maritime militia that includes fishing trawlers to carry out missions in the South China Sea.

Australian warships have been on a months-long engagement mission in Asia that concluded this week.

There was no immediate comment from the defence department.

China claims sovereignty over virtually all of the resource-rich South China Sea, despite rival claims from its South-east Asian neighbours. The Australian navy has conducted joint exercises in thatsea with other nations, including the US. - AFP