Malaysia investigates Chinese vessel accused of salvaging WWII British shipwrecks
Image for Representation. (Photo: Reuters)
MALAYSIA: Malaysian authorities have seized a Chinese-flagged cargo ship amid reports of the salvaging of World War II shipwrecks in Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone, CNN reported quoting state-run Bernama news agency.
According to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, the ship was detained and boarded when it was discovered that it lacked the necessary permits to anchor in Malaysian seas.
An inspection of the ship “led to the discovery of old steel and cannon shells,” according to the report. According to the report, police, the Malaysian Marine Department, and the National Heritage Department will investigate to discover if the shells are from World War II.
It was mentioned in the report that “a foreign salvage ship was conducting an illegal operation to salvage steel from a British warship that sank” in the area. The issue was being investigated under Malaysia’s Merchant Shipping Ordinance, which regulates underwater operations among other activities, CNN reported citing Bernama.
The ruins of two British warships, the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the cruiser HMS Repulse, were sunk by Japanese aeroplanes on December 10, 1941, just two days after Japan attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. The attack by dozens of Japanese planes armed with bombs and torpedoes killed 842 people. Under British law, the wreckage is recognized as war graves.
Reports of the suspected salvaging of the wrecks sparked outrage in the United Kingdom. “We are distressed and concerned at the apparent vandalism for the personal profit of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse,” stated professor Dominic Tweddle, director general of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, in a statement, according to CNN.
The statement added, “They are designated war graves. We are upset at the loss of naval heritage and the impact this has on the understanding of our Royal Navy history.” John Bradford, a senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore said that marine salvage “is an emotional business.”
He added, “Too many people, this feels more like robbing the graves of national heroes rather than reclaiming scrap,” CNN reported. International law on the rescue of wrecked battleships is murky, according to a 2017 report from the Peace Palace Library at The Hague in the Netherlands.
The HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, operating out of Singapore, was sunk after being attacked by land-based Japanese aeroplanes while attempting to confront a Japanese amphibious landing on the Malaysian coast. Their sinking is regarded as one of the worst maritime disasters in Royal Navy history.
It was also one of the first fights to demonstrate that even the most powerful modern warships, such as the Prince of Wales, were vulnerable in the absence of supporting air power. The Japanese planes attacked the British ships from airstrips throughout the region, with no British air protection for the two surface ships after an aircraft carrier that was intended to accompany them in what was named “Force Z” ran aground during its voyage to the Pacific, CNN reported.