USS Houston, being raided for salvage and valuables

An investigation and resulting report by a joint US-Indonesian Navy team has found that the USS Houston,  located in the Sunda Strait is being raided and looted by members of the public. Further, the investigation reported that the ship poses a severe environmental risk and public health hazard due to unexploded ordnance.

The first onsite investigation took place early this year, even though the ship sunk in 1942 and the wreckage was located decades ago. Nevertheless, US Navy divers were able to confirm the wreckage is in fact the USS Houston, and provided a risk assessment of the remains, which is also the grave site for around 700 US Navy sailors and Marines. Details of the report reveal that the ship is leaking fuel. It is anticipated that at the time it sunk, the vessel held 350,000 gallons of fuel and diesel. The ship’s remains are also being vandalised and looted with large amounts of metal, munitions, fixtures, fittings and personal items having been removed.

The site is only one mile off Indonesia’s coast, so it is in an ideal location for divers to head for looting and vandalism. The investigation even found equipment that supplies surface oxygen to the wreckage, so that divers could spend longer periods on the site. Some artefacts have been returned to the US Navy, including a trumpet, the Stars and Stripes reports. The report is ultimately advising that the USS Houston should be placed under protection, and measures are implemented to ensure its stability on the seabed. Meanwhile, Indonesian authorities are doing all they can to monitor the site and ensure as little further damage is done as possible.

A US Navy panel has been established to address the USS Houston situation, with a longer site survey being initially recommended as the next step to assess the damage and danger concerns.

The USS Houston Survivors Association is eager for the ship to be secured to honour the graves of those who lost their lives. The ship was destroyed by the Japanese during a battle in Banten Bay with 1000 crew membersaboard, only 400 survived. Australia’s HMAS Perth was also downed on the same day.

Ian Harvey

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