Sunday, November 20, 2016

Britain's scavenged second world war ships not our fault, says Indonesia

HMS Exeter sinking after the Battle of the Java Sea, 1 March 1942. Photograph: US Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

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.

The Dutch defence ministry said this week it had found empty space where HNLMS De Ruyter, HNLMS Java, and HNLMS Kortenaer used to be.
A preliminary report seen by the Guardian, believed to be from the same expedition, also showed that the wrecks of HMS Exeter, a 175-metre heavy cruiser, and destroyer HMS Encounter had been almost totally removed.
Using equipment that creates a 3D map of the sea floor, the report showed that where the wreck “was once located there is a large ‘hole’ in the seabed”.
A 100m destroyer, HMS Electra, had also been scavenged, the report found, although a “sizable section” of the wreck remained. The 91m US submarine Perch, whose entire crew was captured by the Japanese, had been totally removed, the report said.
All sank during operations in the Java Sea in 1942, when Japanese forces overpowered Dutch, British, American and Australian sailors. The battle was one of the costliest sea skirmishes for the allies during the war and led to the Japanese occupation of the entire Dutch East Indies.
Some 900 Dutch sailors died in the battle, including Rear Admiral Karel Doorman, a war hero in the Netherlands.
Exeter had a crew of about 700 men, most of whom were rescued by the Japanese to become prisoners of war. The Ministry of Defence said 54 men died when it sank.
Encounter and Electra both had crews of 145 men, although they were significantly overloaded with sailors rescued from other ships sunk in the Java Sea. Eight men died on Encounter before it sank. Most of Electra’s crew are believed to have been killed.
The potential worth of metal-built shipwrecks is estimated at hundreds of thousands of pounds. Some of the propellers, often the first items to be stolen, are made of phosphor bronze scrap metal, valued at over £2,000 per tonne.
Crews posing as fishermen and using long rubber hoses to stay underwater for hours have scavenged the waters around Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, locating the wrecks and stealing parts, including steel, aluminium and brass.
Andy Brockman, an archaeologist and researcher in maritime crime, said the UK government had not done enough to stop undersea looting.
“My feeling is that the Ministry of Defence files the issue of taking active steps to protect historic Royal Navy wrecks under the heading of too difficult and too expensive,” he said. “However, I think it is becoming ever more clear that this attitude is not acceptable to the wider public, not least to veterans and their families.”
The Guardian

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