HMS Exeter sinking after the Battle of the Java Sea, 1 March 1942. Photograph: US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command
Indonesia has refused to take the blame for the disappearance of at least six British and Dutch second world war shipwrecks that investigators believe were scavenged for scrap metal, arguing that it could not be expected to protect them.
Two Dutch warships that sank in 1942 in the Java Sea are completely gone, a third has large parts missing and three British ships and a US submarine have also been destroyed by illegal scrap metal scavengers. The UK Ministry of Defence has said it condemns the “unauthorised disturbance of any wreck containing human remains” and requested that Indonesian authorities take “appropriate action”.
Mystery as wrecks of three Dutch WWII ships vanish from Java seabed
There are fears the sunken vessels off Indonesia, which are the graves of 2,200 people, may have been salvaged for metal
Bambang Budi Utomo, the head of the Indonesian National Archeological Centre, part of the education and culture ministry, said on Thursday that Indonesia could not be expected to protect the sites without assistance.
“The Dutch government cannot blame the Indonesian government because they never asked us to protect those ships. As there was no agreement or announcement, when the ships go missing, it is not our responsibility.”
British second world war shipwrecks in Java Sea destroyed by illegal scavenging
Exclusive: 3D mapping report of sea off Indonesia, seen by the Guardian, shows large holes in the seabed where ships used to be
Indonesia’s navy said the ships should not have been disturbed but it was not its responsibility to protect them. “The Indonesian navy cannot monitor all areas all the time,” navy spokesman Gig Jonias Mozes Sipasulta told Agence France-Presse. “If they ask why the ships are missing, I’m going to ask them back, why didn’t they guard the ships?”
Amateur divers discovered the long-lost wrecks of three Dutch ships in 2002, 60 years after they sank while in action against Japanese forces. However, an international expedition that sailed to the site to take video footage in preparation for next year’s 75th anniversary of the battle was shocked to discover that the wrecks had vanished.