Chuan Hong 68 is also wanted by Indonesian authorities for plundering the remains of sunken Dutch warships.
A Chinese salvage vessel, Chuan Hong 68, has been caught in the act of illegally plundering two World War II shipwrecks belonging to the United Kingdom.
The wrecks, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, were sunk by Japanese bombers on 10 December, 1941, resulting in the loss of 840 sailors.
The ship used a large dredging crane to extract scrap steel, aluminum, and brass fittings from the sunken vessels.
Professional diver Hazz Zain reported the illegal operation to local authorities after local fishermen saw the dredger over the wreck sites.
Authorities are investigating the reported looting of the two ships and the discovery of material in a beachside scrap yard that could have been from them.
The wreckage site is located in the extended economic zone of Malaysia.
The incident has highlighted the vulnerability of historic heritage sites to thieves who are willing to plunder war graves.
Tahukah anda? Kegiatan merompak 'kubur perang' oleh kapal dari China dengan penglibatan haram syarikat tempatan semakin menjadi-jadi di perairan Malaysia, Indonesia & Filipina?— This Tommy is literally NOT Tommy Thomas (@NotTommyThomas) May 24, 2023
Yang menjadi mangsa kali ini ialah bangkai 2 kapal Perang Dunia Kedua, HMS Prince of Wales & Repulse. https://t.co/vwXDdsf2kY
Concerns Raised Over Protection Of Naval Heritage Sites
The U.S. Naval Institute’s online news quoted Dominic Tweddle, the director general of the Museum of the Royal Navy, calling for a management strategy for underwater naval heritage that includes targeted retrieval of objects.
He believes that the existing Royal Navy loss list can be enhanced to help understand, research, and manage over 5,000 wrecks before they are lost forever.
We are upset at the loss of naval heritage and the impact this has on the understanding of our Royal Navy history.Dominic Tweddle, the director general of the Museum of the Royal Navy, expressing his regret.
Reports from the UK and Australia indicate that Chuan Hong 68 was dredging with a deep-reach crane for the “high-quality steel” used to build the two warships.
The steel could be smelted for other uses and is important for manufacturing some scientific and medical equipment.
HMS Prince of Wales salvage-new update: unbelievably Chuan Hong 68 operated undetected over the wreck for 5 months. Our analysis indicates a sustained campaign of destruction beginning c29th Dec 22. After 2 weeks onsite the barge unloaded at Kg Belungkor (Digital Globe EO📸@30cm) pic.twitter.com/aJhykHWIO8— MASTArchaeology (@MASTArchaeology) May 27, 2023
New Straits Times reported that Chuan Hong 68 “is also wanted by Indonesian authorities for plundering the remains of sunken Dutch warships HNLMS De Ruyter, HNLMS Java, and HNLMS Kortenaer in the Java Sea.”
The US Navy has also expressed concern over its own wrecks in the Western Pacific.
The incident has sparked calls for better protection for underwater naval heritage sites to prevent them from being destroyed by illegal salvage operations.
The Prince of Wales & Repulse are part of the combined naval history of the world. This is a travesty , that said one that was bound to come .— Ninjamonkey 🇮🇳 (@Aryan_warlord) May 26, 2023
The west erases the role of the USSR in freeing Ukraine from Nazi forces during WW2 , China replies Britain in kind it seems https://t.co/LsABLCUgkN
Task Force Dispatched To Protect Historical Wrecks From Illegal Activity
At the same time, the UK Ministry of Defense dispatched a task force of survey vessels to investigate the status of wrecks in the region five years ago due to concerns about illegal dredging, scavenging, and looting.
The ministry said it would monitor water activity near the sites by satellite to prevent further destruction of naval heritage sites.
The Prince of Wales battleship was a British ship that played an important role in World War II.
Along with the battle cruiser Repulse, it sailed from Singapore to cut Japanese communications.
The ship was named after the Prince of Wales, Edward VIII, who was at the time the heir apparent to the British throne.