Submarines Vanish From The Seabed & They Contained Remains of 77 Crew Members

The subs have lain largely in peace for nearly 80 years.
The subs have lain largely in peace for nearly 80 years.

The sea has often hidden the wrecks of many wartime planes, ships and submarines after they were attacked and sank during battle.

Some still lay undiscovered at the bottom of the Atlantic and Pacific and other massive bodies of water, hidden by impossible-to-penetrate depths of rolling and murky water.

Many of those that disappeared were all but irretrievable, because of the temperature and depth at which they lay.

Such was not the case with two Dutch submarines that fought the Japanese during World War II. Naval and military experts knew precisely where they were – the bottom of the South China Sea, undisturbed for almost eight decades.

The wreck of Dutch sister submarine dubbed K XVII has also disappeared Credit: Dutch national archives


Until now, that is. Now, both submarines are gone.  All that’s left, according to experts, are faint lines in the sand where they rested, and bits of metal scraps left from the wrecks. The two vessels, the King XVII and its sister sub, the O16, were likely plundered by looters.

However, what is even more chilling, and macabre, is that the remains of the 77 sailors who died on board the submarines are also gone. To put it bluntly, whomever robbed the Royal Dutch Navy of its historic wartime relics also robbed the victims’ families of the knowledge of where the men lay.

They are grave robbers, not just thieves looking for treasure to sell on the black market that consists of people who trade in morbid items related to the war. The remains have no monetary value so they were likely consigned to a large, anonymous grave somewhere, or left in the ocean, experts say.

The families are understandably devastated. Jet Bussemaker, grandchild of one of the sub’s commanders, Anton Bussemaker, told the Sun, “It is very sad…it is shocking to all the relatives, but at the same time it does not surprise me at all.” Bussemaker once served as minister to war veterans, which may explain her ‘I’ve-heard-it-all’ attitude.

She added that she and others felt stymied and annoyed that, “where we have found graves, often after the great efforts of all those involved, we are unable to save these places as war graves.”

She feels less comfort now, because she has no idea where her grandfather’s remains rest. “I am now just a surviving relative,”  she told the Sun wistfully. “This is very bad. It gives no rest this way. That boat was the grave.”

Dutch sub O 16, which attacked Japanese ships has also vanished.

The O16 sub, like many  fought in several battles during the war, coming out unscathed each time. But on December 13, 1941, its arsenal depleted, it began its journey back to Singapore.

At 2:30 that morning, it hit a mine when leaving the Gulf of Siam, off the coast of Malaysia. The sub split nearly in two, and 41 men died.

One sailor survived.

The King XVII was struck in the same manner; contact with the sub was lost on December 14, 1941. All 36 men were killed in the explosion.

While looting wrecks on the ocean floor may seem an unlikely way to strike it rich – to say nothing of being ghoulish – experts say it’s a flourishing business that tempts many, as the metal found can be valued in the millions.

A report published in the Guardian in 2017 stated that scavengers of old and sometimes forgotten ships can make as much as one million British pounds if they find the right steel, and that’s for just one vessel.

Submarines are a war grave.

Clearly, these individuals give no thought whatsoever to the grieving families left to cope with the horror of not knowing where these men rest, all of whom died heroes because they died serving their country. One has to wonder – who are these people, and how would they feel if this happened to someone in their own family, if it were their father’s body, or their brother’s?

Perhaps they would not be quite so quick to disregard the remains of men such as these, whom the sea kept close to the ship they served, and were willing to die to defend.

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Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE