Spy sub had China target
by: Paul Lampathakis
From: The Sunday Times
June 16, 2012
A WA submarine was spying on Chinese war vessels at the time of a
high-profile accident that saw five sailors washed overboard.
In revelations set to cause fresh tensions between Canberra and
Beijing, The Sunday Times has learnt that HMAS Farncomb was "keeping an
eye on the Chinese submarine fleet", including activities such as
decoding communications systems, when fishing line tangled in its
propeller in March 2007.
Sources said Farncomb - which is based at Perth's HMAS Stirling base -
had to wait for the cover of night before surfacing for repairs because
it was in a "strategically sensitive" area.
The claims are the latest to shake Australian-Chinese relations after
details emerged that the Rudd Government's 2009 defence planning
reportedly canvassed a scenario of war with China where Australian
submarines would help US forces blockade China's trade routes.
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Farncomb's accident was made public only in 2009 when the Royal
Australian Navy announced bravery medals would be awarded to three crew
members who rescued the five swept off the top of the surfaced
submarine on March 19, 2007, while trying to repair the propeller.
Focusing on the sailors' heroism, media reports said the Farncomb was
in international waters on a spy mission as part of a five-month
deployment in South-East Asia, including Thailand, and the western
But well-placed naval sources told The Sunday Times: "They were keeping
an eye on the Chinese submarine fleet. They were decoding
"They were determining capabilities (of Chinese submarines). (The area)
was so strategically sensitive that they couldn't surface the boat in
the middle of the day.
"It had to secretly surface in the night and risk people's (crew
members') lives because where they were, they couldn't risk making
The sources said a "massive Chinese submarine base" at Hainan Island in
the South China Sea had become a major concern for Australian and US
forces, and that a reason Australia was important to the US-Australian
alliance was because of its submarine activities.
Responding to the spying claims and questions about other Australian
covert missions regarding China, a Department of Defence spokeswoman
said: "The Chief of Navy has made it clear that we do not talk about
submarine operations for reasons of national security."
Notre Dame University political analyst Martin Drum said the issue
would raise more questions for Defence Minister Stephen Smith about the
extent of spying activities against China and create further tensions
between the two countries.sAustralia and China at a time when Chinese
investment in Australia had become a "significant political issue".