U.K. Royal Navy ‘distressed and concerned’ by illegal Chinese salvage of WWII wrecks
- In Reports
- 11:04 PM, May 26, 2023
- Myind Staff
The U. K. Royal Navy has expressed worry about two British World War II battleship wrecks being raided illegally by a Chinese salvage operation for scrap steel, aluminium, and brass fittings off the coast of Malaysia, USNI News recently learned.
The salvage operators are targeting the steel, high-grade aluminium, and brass fixtures from two British World War 2 shipwrecks resting on the South China Sea bed — battlecruiser HMS Repulse and battleship HMS Prince of Wales — which sank in 1941, days after Pearl Harbor, by Japanese bombers, resulting in the loss of 840 sailors.
The steel might be melted down and used in different ways. Prior to the deployment of nuclear weapons and testing, steel was produced and valued for use in the production of some scientific and medical equipment.
Professional diver Hazz Zain flagged the illicit commercial operation with the Public Complaints Management System after a local fisherman spotted the dredger over the wreck sites.
The illegal salvage, according to the director general of the Museum of the Royal Navy, has brought to light how vulnerable historic heritage sites are to thieves looking to steal from war graves.
“What we need is a management strategy for the underwater naval heritage so that we can better protect or commemorate these ships. That may include targeted retrieval of objects,” Dominic Tweddle said.
“If resourced correctly, the existing Royal Navy loss list can be enhanced to be a vital tool to begin to understand, research, and manage over 5,000 wrecks before they are lost forever.”
According to information obtained, the grab dredger Chuan Hong 68 is wanted by Indonesian police for allegedly stealing the wreckage of the Dutch warships HNLMS De Ruyter, HNLMS Java, and HNLMS Kortenaer in the Java Sea.
The wreckage is located in Malaysia's extended economic zone. Authorities there confirmed to news agencies that they are looking into the two ships' alleged looting as well as the finding of possible ship parts in a scrap yard by the shore.
The battleship is resting upside down in 223 feet of water near Kuantan in the South China Sea. The wreckage of the battle cruiser is several miles away.
British news organizations have often reported about previous illegal dredging of this site and others for steel, copper, and specially manufactured propellers.
The same waters around Indonesia and Singapore also hold the wrecks of 40 Australian, Dutch, and Japanese warships and merchantmen that have already been sunk, in addition to the British warships.
The U.S. Navy has also expressed concern over its own wrecks in the Western Pacific. A few months after Prince of Wales and Repulse perished during the Battle of Sunda Strait on March 1, 1942, the cruiser USS Houston (CA-30) and the Australian warship HMAS Perth sank to the south. When the Houston and Perth sank, more than 650 American sailors and Marines perished, and more than 350 did likewise.
In 2015, several groups of foreign "treasure hunters" used homemade explosives to detonate the heavy steel plates of the ships for easy pickings.
However, enforcement actions and patrols by the Navy and Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency brought this to a halt.
Image source: New Straits Times