Any ship that is sunk with a loss of life, especially those that fell during sea battles in WWI and WWII, are always considered war graves and cannot be salvaged or disturbed in any way. At least this was what all countries believed and adhered to until recently when it came to light that Chinese divers have been looting wrecks in the seabed around the coasts of Malaysia and Indonesia.
The British Government was horrified to learn that 10 wrecks that were the final resting place of over 1,000 British sailors have been ruthlessly dredged up for their scrap metal value.
Two of the vessels that have been plundered for their scrap metal are the HMS Prince of Wales and the HMS Repulse, both of whom were sunk by the Japanese Navy in 1941.
Gavin Williamson, the British Defence Secretary, told an interviewer that the Government was horrified to learn that these wrecks had been disturbed and the remains of the sailors that died on them had been unceremoniously dredged up to the surface.
The British Government is, like many other governments, firmly against the disturbance of any wreck that contains human remains and especially those of a military nature. The British and Malaysian governments will work together to try and establish the validity of these claims.
The claims initially stated that six British ships had been desecrated, but it seems that the number is now much higher. The worst plundered was the heavy cruiser, HMS Exeter, that sank in 1942 off the coast of Java. This ship sank with 54 men on board, but now it seems that the wreck is almost entirely gone, and the remains of the men have been lost.
Other wrecks that have been desecrated for their scrap metal value are the HMS Banka, a Royal Navy minesweeper that sank off the coast of Malaysia in December 1941, the HMS Kuala and HMS Tien Kwang, which were carrying evacuees from Singapore and sunk by the Japanese in February 1942, and the SS Loch Ranza, a merchant vessel that was damaged by the Japanese Air Force in February 1942.
According to information at hand, the scavengers use heavy weights that are dropped onto the wrecks to break them up into manageable pieces. The pieces are then dragged from the seabed using cranes. The recovered pieces are then taken to scrapyards in Indonesia where they are cut into unrecognizable fragments before being sold to Chinese scrap metal dealers for recycling.
Indonesian officials have also begun excavating a cemetery in Indonesia where it is believed scavengers dumped the remains of British and Dutch sailors that were dragged to the surface as part of an illegal scavenging exercise. These wrecks were thought to have been sunk in the Battle of the Java Sea that took place in 1942.
It is regrettable that nothing is sacred in this day and age. These wrecks contain the bodies of husbands, sons, and brothers of families and should never be dredged up for recycling. This action is against the UN International Salvaging Convention and is illegal in Malaysia and Indonesia, and we can only hope that the authorities find these vultures and put them out of business permanently.