World War II shipwrecks being plundered by illegal scavenging

Scale of historic shipwreck plunder was discovered by an international team of divers in the Java Sea. The damaged wrecks include three Dutch and two British warships sank in the Java Sea in 1942.

3D sonar scan of HMS Electra wreck plundered by metal scavengers (by nswwrecks)
3D sonar scan of HMS Electra wreck plundered by metal scavengers (by nswwrecks)

Illegal salvagers have plundered at least six World War II shipwrecks near Indonesia,  including the wreck of an American submarine that has now completely vanished, according to investigators. The wrecks are believed to have been salvaged for scrap metal. The damaged wrecks include three Dutch and two British warships sunk by Japanese forces after the Battle of the Java Sea in February 1942, and the American submarine USS Perch, which sank in the Java Sea in March 1942 after being damaged in an attack on Japanese destroyers. The Dutch wrecks were almost intact when they were rediscovered by amateur divers in 2002, but the latest expedition found only holes in the seabed where many of the wrecks once lay.

A wreck in the Java Sea on a 3D sonar scan (by nswwrecks)
A wreck in the Java Sea on a 3D sonar scan (by nswwrecks)

The survey team reported that the wrecks of two of the Dutch warships, the HNLMS De Ruyter and the HNLMS Java, appear to be missing. A large part of a third wreck, the HNLMS Kortenaer, is also missing. They also reported that two British war wrecks in the area, the HMS Exeter and the HMS Encounter, have been almost entirely scavenged for scrap metal, and that the wreck of the USS Perch has completely vanished. Under international agreements, naval vessels remain the property of their governments after they sink, and it is illegal to disturb or salvage them without official permission. The Dutch defence minister made a statement to members of Parliament last week, noting the destruction reported by the expedition to the Java Sea wrecks. Britain’s defence ministry also issued a statement in response to the expedition’s report, condemning the damage and desecration done to the wrecks and suggesting that illegal metal salvagers are to blame.

(after Live Science & nswwrecks)

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