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Allied ships, war graves, disappear from Java Sea


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Mystery as wrecks of three Dutch WWII ships vanish from Java seabed

The Guardian  /  November 16, 2016

An international investigation has been launched into the mysterious disappearance of three Dutch second world war shipwrecks which have vanished from the bottom of the Java Sea off the coast of Indonesia.

The Netherlands defence ministry has confirmed that the wrecks of two of its warships that sank in 1942 have completely gone, while large parts of a third are also missing.

The wrecks were first found intact by amateur divers in 2002. But a new expedition to mark next year’s 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Java Sea discovered the ships were missing.

While sonar shows the imprints of the wrecks on the ocean floor, the ships themselves are no longer there.

The ministry said in a statement: “The wrecks of HNLMS De Ruyter and HNLMS Java have seemingly gone completely missing. A large piece is also missing of HNLMS Kortenaer.”

All three ships sank during the Battle of the Java Sea, which turned out to be a disastrous defeat for Dutch, British, American and Australian sailors by Japanese forces in February 1942. It was one of the costliest sea battles of the war and led to the Japanese occupation of the entire Dutch East Indies.

About 2,200 people died, including 900 Dutch nationals and 250 people of Indonesian Dutch origin, and the wrecks have been declared a sacred war grave.

“An investigation has been launched to see what has happened to the wrecks, while the cabinet has been informed,” the defence ministry said. “The desecration of a war grave is a serious offence,” it added, suggesting the wrecks may have been illegally salvaged.

The seas around Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia are a graveyard for more than 100 ships and submarines sunk during the war. For years, scavengers have surreptitiously located the wrecks and stolen parts, including steel, aluminium and brass.

A recreational diving school in Malaysia told the New Straits Times last year that shipwrecks were being blown apart by with explosives by people posing as fishermen before their metal is removed.

The US military found two years ago that there had been an “unauthorised disturbance of the grave site” of the USS Houston, which sank in the Battle of Sunda Strait, also in the Java Sea. It is the grave for nearly 650 sailors and marines. [What was our response???]

Theo Vleugels, director of the Dutch War Graves Foundation, told the ANP news agency: “The people who died there should be left in peace.”


HNLMS Kortenaer.jpg

HNLMS Java.jpg

HNLMS De Ruyter.jpg

HNLMS De Ruyter..jpg

USS Houston CA-30.jpg

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Scavengers hurt diving industry

New Straights Times  /  October 26, 2015

The future of recreational wreck diving appears bleak with the damage caused to shipwrecks by illegal salvage operators, who cannibalize sunken wrecks on the seabed off Pulau Tioman, Pahang.

Efforts must be made to preserve the shipwrecks, which comprised warships, submarines, super tankers and freighters, in Malaysian waters, urged the diving fraternity.

B&J Diving Centre Sdn Bhd managing director Zainal Rahman Karim said it was a shame that sunken ships with a historical significance were disappearing.

He said the country’s underwater sites that had heritage value drew a large number of tourists, who would go on liveaboard diving cruises and day-trip explorations to such sites.

“It is bad news when divers say shipwrecks in Malaysia are being blown apart.

“The popularity of the sites is declining. How would the survivors feel when they hear that the ships they served on during World War 2 are being torn apart?”

He said the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse Survivors Association and the next of kin of those who died in the war were concerned about the damage to the sunken ships.

He said they hoped that the authorities would act swiftly to stop the further demolition of the shipwrecks.

“The shipwrecks are big attractions and an icon for technical diving enthusiasts.”

 Zainal, better known as Ben among those in the diving community, said although the sites of the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse wrecks were referred to as “war graves”, they were not legally war graves.

He said the activities of illegal salvage operators were uncovered when they looted several sunken Japanese ships off Penang and in the Straits of Malacca last year.

He said the scavengers then moved their operations to the South China Sea and Java Sea off Indonesia, following reports of their activities.

“If all shipwrecks with a historical significance are protected, no one can remove anything from the country’s seabed. Our concern is that the sunken ships will be removed within the next few years.”

Zainal, who has more than 25 years of diving experience, said scavengers had removed the massive propellers of HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales. He said each propeller blade was worth more than SG$25,000 (RM77,000).

He said the salvage operators ran as syndicates and had a proper understanding of the location of each sunken ship.

“The syndicates include dive crew and crane operators, who would take up any job as long as they are promised lucrative returns.”

Zainal said the explosives used to blow up the sunken ships posed a threat to marine life.

The director of a Singapore-based diving company, David Liu, said he had, on numerous occasions, tried to curb illegal scavenging.

“I am prepared to work with the authorities to find a solution to the problem.”

He said he had risked his life to preserve shipwrecks by taking divers to the site of HMS Repulse to place memorial flags.

However, he was caught by Malaysian authorities during a diving trip this year and consequently, spent 29 hours in detention.

Liu said British families visited the sites every year to perform simple rituals, such as laying flowers, cleaning the Union Jack flag and conducting services in memory of their loved ones, who had served as crewmen on board the ships.

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Britain's scavenged second world war ships not our fault, says Indonesia

The Guardian  /  November 17, 2016

Jakarta says it cannot be expected to have protected sunken second world war warships destroyed by illegal scavenging

Indonesia has refused to take the blame for the disappearance of at least six British and Dutch second world war shipwrecks that investigators believe were scavenged for scrap metal, arguing that it could not be expected to protect them.

Two Dutch warships that sank in 1942 in the Java Sea are completely gone, a third has large parts missing and three British ships and a US submarine have also been destroyed by illegal scrap metal scavengers. The UK Ministry of Defence has said it condemns the “unauthorised disturbance of any wreck containing human remains” and requested that Indonesian authorities take “appropriate action”.

Bambang Budi Utomo, the head of the Indonesian National Archeological Centre, part of the education and culture ministry, said on Thursday that Indonesia could not be expected to protect the sites without assistance.

“The Dutch government cannot blame the Indonesian government because they never asked us to protect those ships. As there was no agreement or announcement, when the ships go missing, it is not our responsibility.

Indonesia’s navy said the ships should not have been disturbed but it was not its responsibility to protect them. “The Indonesian navy cannot monitor all areas all the time,” navy spokesman Gig Jonias Mozes Sipasulta told Agence France-Presse. “If they ask why the ships are missing, I’m going to ask them back, why didn’t they guard the ships?”

Amateur divers discovered the long-lost wrecks of three Dutch ships in 2002, 60 years after they sank while in action against Japanese forces. However, an international expedition that sailed to the site to take video footage in preparation for next year’s 75th anniversary of the battle was shocked to discover that the wrecks had vanished.

The Dutch defence ministry said this week it had found empty space where HNLMS De Ruyter, HNLMS Java, and HNLMS Kortenaer used to be.

A preliminary report seen by the Guardian, believed to be from the same expedition, also showed that the wrecks of HMS Exeter, a 175-metre heavy cruiser, and destroyer HMS Encounter had been almost totally removed.

Using equipment that creates a 3D map of the sea floor, the report showed that where the wreck “was once located there is a large ‘hole’ in the seabed”.

A 100m destroyer, HMS Electra, had also been scavenged, the report found, although a “sizable section” of the wreck remained. The 91m US submarine Perch, whose entire crew was captured by the Japanese, had been totally removed, the report said.

All sank during operations in the JavaSea in 1942, when Japanese forces overpowered Dutch, British, American and Australian sailors. The battle was one of the costliest sea skirmishes for the allies during the war and led to the Japanese occupation of the entire Dutch East Indies.

Some 900 Dutch sailors died in the battle, including Rear Admiral Karel Doorman, a war hero in the Netherlands.

Exeter had a crew of about 700 men, most of whom were rescued by the Japanese to become prisoners of war. The Ministry of Defence said 54 men died when it sank.

Encounter and Electra both had crews of 145 men, although they were significantly overloaded with sailors rescued from other ships sunk in the JavaSea. Eight men died on Encounter before it sank. Most of Electra’s crew are believed to have been killed.

The potential worth of metal-built shipwrecks is estimated at hundreds of thousands of pounds. Some of the propellers, often the first items to be stolen, are made of phosphor bronze scrap metal, valued at over £2,000 per tonne.

Crews posing as fishermen and using long rubber hoses to stay underwater for hours have scavenged the waters around Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, locating the wrecks and stealing parts, including steel, aluminium and brass.

Andy Brockman, an archaeologist and researcher in maritime crime, said the UK government had not done enough to stop undersea looting.

“My feeling is that the Ministry of Defence files the issue of taking active steps to protect historic Royal Navy wrecks under the heading of too difficult and too expensive,” he said. “However, I think it is becoming ever more clear that this attitude is not acceptable to the wider public, not least to veterans and their families.”

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Despicable. Sadly people will do anything to make a buck and always have.

I read about this story the other day and learned that many ships from both World Wars are highly sought after not just for scrap metal but because they existed before the atomic age and therefore have "low-background" steel. Apparently decades of nuclear testing have resulted in most modern steel being contaminated with various atomic particles making this steel unusable for medical and other advanced uses.

What an age we live in.

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Such news aren't close to what might be called "nice".

It's a big shame on my mind. Sems the locals have no respect to Dutch, American, British or Australian sailors who fought Japanise there.

Frobably it looked like a "no their's deal" to them. 

On the other hand, respect to men who died and found their graves at the sea bottom is a normal thing to any civilized people over the globe.

A very big shame is getting coins from a someone's grave. Lots of examples of that in the world though.

Sad it's really difficult for British or other authorities to organize constant protection of such ship wrecks. The ocean is too large.

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Никогда не бывает слишком много грузовиков! leversole 11.2012

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The British and Germans have been "mining" the WWI German fleet scuttled at Scapa Flow since the 1970's for non irradiated steel for the making of medical devices and for medical tools. The ones in Java should be treated as pirates and dealt with accordingly.   Paul

Edited by 41chevy


 “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘Holy shit, what a ride!’


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  • 1 year later...

UK investigates WW2 shipwreck looting claims

BBC World News  /  August 19, 2018

The UK will investigate allegations that British World War Two wrecks in Asia have been targeted by scavengers, the defence secretary says.

Gavin Williamson said he was "very concerned" to hear claims that four shipwrecks off the Malaysian and Indonesian coasts had been looted.

The Mail on Sunday said HMS Tien Kwang, HMS Kuala, HMS Banka and SS Loch Ranza were targeted for their metal.

They are thought to be the graves of Royal Navy sailors and civilians.

It comes after six wrecks, including Royal Navy battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse, were reported to have been damaged or destroyed by thieves.

The UK government "absolutely condemns" the unauthorised disturbance of any wreck containing human remains, Mr Williamson said.

"I am very concerned to hear any allegations of incidents of Royal Navy wrecks being plundered in the Far East," he said.

"We will work closely with the Indonesian and Malaysian governments to investigate these claims."

Submarine chaser HMS Tien Kwang and auxiliary patrol vessel HMS Kuala were carrying hundreds of evacuees when they were attacked by Japanese bombers near the Indonesian Riau Islands in February 1942.

That same month the cargo ship, the SS Loch Ranza, exploded in a Japanese air raid off the Riau Islands, killing seven men.

HMS Banka, a minesweeper, sank after hitting a mine off the coast of Malaysia in December 1941, killing its crew of four British officers and 34 Malay sailors.

The HMS Prince of Wales, where Churchill and Roosevelt signed the Atlantic Charter, which defined the Allied aims for the world after the war, and HMS Repulse both sank off the Malaysian coast, on 10 December 1941 and are the last resting places of more than 830 Royal Navy sailors.

The ships were found to have been damaged by scavengers in 2014.


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