BRISBANE, Australia (AP) -- The Australian Defense Department said that a Chinese navy ship fired a laser at one of its surveillance aircraft, putting the lives of the crew in danger.
The incident happened on Thursday when the P-8A Poseidon plane detected a laser illuminating the aircraft while in flight over Australia's northern approaches, the department said.
Such episodes are not uncommon as the U.S. and its allies accuse China of asserting its military might, and have taken steps to challenge Beijing's growing clout in the western Pacific and elsewhere.
The department said in a statement Saturday that the laser came from a People's Liberation Army Navy vessel. It was accompanying another Chinese ship that transited through the Torres Strait. Both ships were now in the Coral Sea, east of Australia, it said.
"Illumination of the aircraft by the Chinese vessel is a serious safety incident," the Defense Department said. "We strongly condemn unprofessional and unsafe military conduct. These actions could have endangered the safety and lives of the ADF personnel."
Lasers present a serious problem because when aimed at aircraft they can injure pilots or temporarily blind them -- which can present safety risks particularly as they are taking off and landing.
Two years ago, the U.S. also accused the Chinese navy of firing a laser at one if its Poseidon planes over the Pacific. China denied it, saying the plane had circled at low altitude over its warship despite repeated warnings.
In 2019, Australian navy helicopter pilots reported being were hit by lasers while exercising in the South China Sea, forcing them to land as a precaution. In 2018, the U.S. issued a formal complaint to the Chinese government over the use of high-grade lasers near the military base in Djibouti that were directed at aircraft and resulted in minor injuries to two American pilots.
Tensions have ratcheted up particularly in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety, while the U.S. and its allies insist on freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters.