Metal Salvagers Destroy Historic World War II Ship

Photos by Valerie Chai

Metal salvagers have caused the Malaysian state of Sarawak to lose a historic shipwreck that was treasured by many. It was a ship on its way to becoming one of the state’s biggest underwater tourist attractions.

Valerie Chai is the diver responsible for photos that show the extent of destruction sustained during World War II of the Japanese shipwreck Katori Maru. She is part of one of the group of divers who visited the shipwreck last week. Since 2008, she has dove down at the site about once or twice a week.

She spoke to the Borneo Post and said, “When we first heard the news (of metal salvagers targeting the shipwreck), we were all shocked, but we didn’t know whether it was true or not and how much damage had been done because there were no further reports. I was eager to go and dive when the season was open, which is now, to see how exactly the wreck is. When I went down and saw the ship for the first time, I thought, I am diving in a ruin, my God. It is beyond recognition.”

It was difficult for her to understand how anyone could cause this kind of destruction. Chai mentioned that as a diver she feels very sad, but saw this as an opportunity to take photos that everyone could take a look at. The groups did not get the chance to explore all of the shipwreck, but she thinks it will be more or less the same.

There is really only debris and metal scraps scattered throughout the barren seabed where the ship once lay. Only a few parts remain which the scavengers’ claw could not grab, but still show signs of gashes and puncture marks.

Photos by Valerie Chai
Photos by Valerie Chai


The Borneo Post published an exclusive interview with an eyewitness that claimed to see a metal salvaging ship and tugboat acting strangely. It was located above the Katori Maru. Once the vessel took notice of the eyewitness taking photos of their actions, it fled the scene.

Divers have only now been able to dive down to the wreck and take clear photos to confirm the damage that has taken place due to improved sea and weather conditions for the start of the diving season. Edward Yong is the tour operator and diving business owner who confirmed how difficult it is for divers to recognize different sections of the shipwreck since there is basically nothing left. The scene is nothing short of a ‘scrap metal yard’.

Photos by Valerie Chai
Photos by Valerie Chai

He said, “Only a bit of the structure is left. The bow is left. Inside, all the deck, everything is gone. There is metal falling everywhere. It is a very, very sad place to see. The first thing that came to my mind, only when things this bad happen then people started to talk about it. But then it’s too late already.”

Overall, Yong is highly frustrated that so little has been done to protect the historical and marine value of the Katori Maru. There is no excuse since there has been widespread knowledge that it was susceptible to exploitation.

Yong is grateful that the eyewitness saw what was happening when they did. Had they not arrived on the scene, the wreck would have likely been gone completely.

Ian Harvey

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