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.


The salvage barge used to destroy the wrecks

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.

After being turned away from the site by the workers on the Chinese salvage vessel, scuba diver Monica Chin arranged for a team of divers to investigate. 'It totally broke my heart,' she said after viewing photos of the damaged ships. 'It made me cry. I just can’t believe it ... I wish the pictures were wrong. I wish that it was not true.'
 The mangled remains of the Rice Bowl Wrecks
Another diver, Mark Hedger, says upwards of 98 and 99 per cent of two of the wrecks are simply 'gone,' describing one of the ships as an 

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.

The wreck of the Dutch cruiser HMNLS De Ruyter has disappeared from the floor of the Java Sea. Investigators think it was broken up for scrap by illegal salvage operators.

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.'








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