Kuching: Divers freely loot two shipwrecks of Japanese WWII war ships off the coast of Santubong stripping them bare of historical artifacts — relics that could have been used by the local government to lure in tourists.
It was scuba instructor Ernest Teo who brought this troublesome affair to one of the country’s local newspapers, the Borneo Post on September 13 pointing out the lack of policies regarding the protection of these WWII ruins as the culprit. According to Teo, without the necessary laws protecting these WWII landmarks, the dive sites are in serious danger of losing their cultural, tourism and, most especially, historical importance.
Becoming Just ‘A Heap of Useless Ruins’
The two WWII shipwrecks are identified as the Katori Maru and the Hiyoshi Maru, part of the Japanese fleet during the raging Second World War. These two sunk in relatively shallow waters making them readily accessible to divers, even to the neophytes. While their accessibility makes them a favorite among tourists, this is also the very reason why they are so vulnerable to theft and vandalism.
Teo revealed that the plundering has happened over the course of years and due to that, the wreckage are stripped bare of their identifications.
“For example, on the Hiyoshi Maru, there used to be a lot of things there that could identify it as a Japanese ship. But if you go there today, you can’t identify anything at all. I have heard [certain people] say they have hundreds of sake (traditional Japanese wine) bottles at home, as well as other items, like the propeller and so on.”
the country currently do not have laws that will protect these ruins, which Teo dubbed as “living museums”, from thieves.
Teo fears that with all the looting happening, the site will eventually lose its attraction, therefore, causing a negative impact on the underwater tourism sector of the state.
“They are stripping everything off and making it not interesting at all. There’s one wreck where you can still see torpedoes, bombs and a lot of other things. These are the things which are attractive [to visitors].”
This one wreck Teo talked about is a third shipwreck – that of WWII Japanese destroyer named Sagiri. It is relatively untouched due to its location which is less accessible unlike the first two and diving in its area requires experience and high-level skills.
As interest on the historical diving sites rose in the recent years, Teo revealed that he along with a number of fellow divers have pooled their own resources as well as time to start their own research and collect information connected to these places.
However, he conceded that their manpower is not enough — they need the support of the government, the media and, eventually, the public.
Teo suggested that implementing policies that will put restrictions on the movements of fishing trawlers within the area is a start. Allowing no boats to enter the diving sites without permits could also be carried out.
Teo pointed out that it will not only be the diving community who will benefit from the preservation of these said areas. With the rise on tourism these could possibly bring, it could also boost the community and the country’s economy, too.