Illegal Salvagers Target More Wrecks in Southeast Asia
Three more wrecks have been targetted by illegal metal salvagers in Southeast Asia. The 'Rice Bowl' wrecks just north of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia, have been pillaged in a sophisticated operation using a floating crane.
The war graves were prized by divers - the Kokusei Maru, Higane Maru and Hiyori Maru, were torpedoed in 1944 by US forces and are likely to still hold the remains of dozens of crewmen.
At least six other World War Two wrecks in the region have also been plundered in recent years including 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.
In the latest incident, the popular dive sites about 50km north of Kota Kinabalu have been extensively damaged.
According to The Guardian, scuba divers reported a large Chinese vessel, known as a 'grab dredger,' using a crane to pull up the shredded remains of the Japanese wrecks, which were likely torn apart by explosives and other equipment.
The looters are looking for valuable metals, including steel, aluminium, and brass. Propellers, which are made of phosphor bronze, are among the most valuable objects on these sunken vessels, fetching over $2,500 a tonne.
unrecognisable “heap of metal piled up into a ball.”
The wrecks before the salvagers struck.
Last year a 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.'