EAST JAVA, Indonesia: Deep-sea diver Dave Yiu has performed numerous dives to Asia’s World War Two shipwrecks over the previous 20 years.
He imagines what life was like aboard the ships, and is awed by their historic worth and the encircling marine life.
In latest years, nevertheless, he has additionally witnessed their destruction first-hand.
Two wrecks that he has typically visited are the British Royal Navy battlecruiser HMS (Her Majesty’s Ship) Repulse and battleship HMS Prince of Wales. They sank off the coast of Kuantan, Malaysia on Dec 10, 1941 beneath Japanese assault.
On a visit in 2013, he observed a propeller lacking from the strict of the 242-metre-long Repulse, which lies about 50 metres underwater at its shallowest level.
“We’re talking about a huge propeller, bigger than the size of a bus,” he advised the programme Undercover Asia. “It’s gone. We used to see small-time salvagers, and they just dive for scrap metal, but this is something else altogether.”
There has been extra of the identical occurring since then, and he has even seen boats which have carried out the demolition.
The sinking of the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales marked a serious setback for the British within the war, and greater than 800 males on each ships died.
“There’s a lot of reverence for the men of war who died,” mentioned Yiu, a Singaporean diver with Tech Gas Asia, which affords a variety of scuba gear and companies. “Human remains? We see them, we don’t touch them.”
Seeing the Repulse “eaten up” by looters is “heartbreaking” to him. The plunder of Southeast Asia’s wartime shipwrecks has even been dubbed the world’s largest grave theft.
More than 40 have been recognized as broken or eliminated. Hundreds extra are suspected to be broken or are thought-about weak. Thousands of American, Australian, British, Dutch and Japanese sailors went down with the ships.
WHO DISTURBED THE GRAVES?
News of the unlawful salvaging and desecration of war graves has sparked outcry in international locations such as the Netherlands.
The Dutch, the colonial rulers of Indonesia, misplaced three ships when Japan defeated the Allied forces within the Battle of the Java Sea on Feb 27, 1942.
Some 915 males went down with the HNLMS (His/Her Netherlands Majesty’s Ship) De Ruyter, Java and Kortenaer. In complete, 2,300 lives have been misplaced within the battle, which sought to stop Japan’s occupation of the Dutch East Indies.
Who has destroyed these war graves and why? Investigative journalist Aqwam Fiazmi Hanifan is a kind of who’ve tried to uncover the thriller.
He went to East Java, the place tales had emerged of human stays discovered alongside scrap steel from a Dutch vessel dredged up.
Taking small valuables and scrap steel is a convention in Java’s coastal communities, who’ve fished the seas a very long time. And locals round Brondong Port confirmed that they’d sorted out elements from the warship.
Aqwam discovered, nevertheless, that they may not have been accountable for the large-scale removing of the wrecks, which required fashionable machines.
As for the human stays, a former scrapyard supervisor mentioned bones and skulls have been discovered. Some of the stays have been buried on the Suko cemetery in Brondong, however official investigations discovered the bones to be from animals.
The former supervisor had one other lead: Pioner 88, the identify of a salvage ship. Aqwam traced its possession to an Indonesian firm, however his makes an attempt to trace down its boss have been unsuccessful.
He shared his findings with the police, however officers discovered no proof that the corporate had damaged the legislation.
“We couldn’t find the big metal pieces to match the investigation of their metals,” an officer advised him. “Also, their (salvage site) co-ordinates are different (from those of the wartime shipwrecks). We need to stick to the facts.”
Aqwam’s investigations hit a lifeless finish, however doubts stay in his thoughts. According to him, the placement for a authorities licence issued to Pioner 88 in 2015 was close to the plundered wreck of British destroyer HMS Electra.
“Mostly these licences didn’t even mention any co-ordinates. We can see that, especially for the Pioner 88 crane ship, it doesn’t explain specifically the co-ordinates of which shipwrecks they can collect,” he famous.
Based on locals’ testimonies, ships typically function exterior the placement acknowledged on these licences anyway, he added. “Sometimes the areas they work in are quite far from the sea lanes they’re supposed to be working in.”
In 2017, one other vessel, a dredger referred to as Chuan Hong 68, was caught by the Indonesian Navy for allegedly looting a sunken Swedish supertanker.
The dredger was additionally suspected of illegally scavenging on the wrecks of three Japanese ships that sank off Borneo throughout World War Two. But it managed to flee.
The Chinese authorities, which mentioned a Malaysian firm had chartered the dredger, prompt to Indonesia that it settle the problem with the corporate, reported the Jakarta Post.
Chuan Hong 68 was then detained by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. The ship and its crew have been later launched.
Some specialists imagine unlawful salvagers have torn historic shipwrecks aside due to the excessive worth of their metals. The ships have been manufactured earlier than the primary atomic explosions and, in contrast to metal that has been produced ever since, haven’t any radioactive contamination.
Such steel is uncommon and used for delicate tools, such as Geiger counters — which detect radiation — aeronautical devices and clean-room tools, mentioned maritime archaeologist James Hunter of the Australian National Maritime Museum.
He and his colleague Kieran Hosty have examined historic shipwrecks such as the cruiser HMAS (Her/His Majesty’s Australian Ship) Perth (I), which sank on March 1, 1942 off the north-western tip of Java.
They estimated in a 2017 survey that 60 per cent of the ship’s starboard hull plating had disappeared between October 2015 and December 2016 as a results of industrial-scale operations.
The “massive undertaking” would have required business or extremely refined divers, crane barges and different sources to extract over 4,000 tonnes of the wreck from the seabed, mentioned Hosty.
DELICATE AND COMPLICATED TASK
Governments and researchers have made some progress on defending what’s left of the area’s wartime shipwrecks. But extra work is required, and collaboration amongst international locations is a fragile and sophisticated process.
International laws — together with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea — has confirmed insufficient for the safety of the HMAS Perth, famous a paper co-authored by Hosty, Hunter and Shinatria Adhityatama of Indonesia’s National Research Centre of Archaeology.
The standing and safety of World War Two shipwrecks depend upon the willingness and nationwide legal guidelines of the nation the place they’re discovered, Dutch and Indonesian researchers famous in one other paper, printed in January.
Indonesia’s place is that these wrecks fall beneath its authorized system, they famous within the paper Battle of the Java Sea: One Event, Multiple Sites, Values and Views.
WATCH: Who’s behind the unlawful looting of WWII shipwrecks close to Indonesia? (47:49)
The public outcry within the Netherlands over the unlawful salvaging of the HNLMS Java, De Ruyter and Kortenaer “sparked diplomatic tensions” between the 2 international locations, the researchers famous.
Who plundered the wrecks stays unknown. But an expedition in 2019 helped each international locations set up what’s left on the seabed.
And from July 2017, the three wrecks have been marked “historic shipwrecks” on Indonesia’s nautical maps, which suggests no anchoring, diving or fishing is allowed at these places, they famous.
Similarly, the work of Australian and Indonesian companies resulted within the HMAS Perth web site being declared Indonesia’s first maritime conservation space in 2018, coinciding with the 76th anniversary of the ship’s loss.
World War Two shipwrecks are additionally protected beneath an Indonesian legislation from 2010 regarding cultural conservation, cited Nia Naelul Hasanah Ridwan, a analysis director at Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.
But native legislation enforcers and governments should still be unaware that historic shipwrecks are thought-about cultural heritage, and let looters go free, she mentioned. The downside can also be a regional one, she added.
We have to coach and lift consciousness (that) regardless that the shipwrecks belong to different international locations … we nonetheless have to guard them.
Indonesia has maybe been “unfairly accused” of failing to protect these websites, mentioned Natali Pearson of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre on the University of Sydney.
“Ultimately, the vessels were in these waters to defend colonial interests. And there’s been limited co-operation over the past 75 years between the Allied countries that were involved and Indonesia,” she famous.
Still, she referred to as for better safety of underwater heritage. “We can’t ignore the ocean or what’s in it just because it’s out of sight, out of mind, hidden beneath the waves,” she mentioned. “The ocean is the world’s greatest museum.”
Watch this episode of Undercover Asia here.