14 years ago, the remains of the Dutch warship HNLMS Java were discovered 200+ feet below the waves of the Java Sea by amateur divers. Two more wrecks were discovered during the same dive – the HNLMS De Ruyter and HNLMS Kortenaer.

A new expedition marking next year’s 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Java Sea went back to revisit the trio of shipwrecks. What they found shocked them.

“The wrecks of HNLMS De Ruyter and HNLMS Java have seemingly gone completely missing. A large piece is also missing of HNLMS Kortenaer,” The Netherlands defense ministry said in a statement.

HNLMS De Ruyter

The HNLMS De Ruyter.

An investigation into what happened to the shipwrecks has been launched. “The desecration of a war grave is a serious offense,” suggesting local scavengers were the cause.

Did You Know: All three warships were sunk on the same day, February 27, 1942, during the Battle of the Java Sea. HNLMS De Ruyter and HNLMS Kortenaer were struck by torpedoes from the Japanese cruiser Haguro. HNLMS Java was struck by a torpedo from the Japanese cruiser Nachi. More than 100 ships lay across the sea floors surrounding Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

All three ships are classified as war graves. Most countries have laws in place to protect war graves from being desecrated. Enforcing these laws, though, is difficult with shipwrecks/submarines and plane wrecks often strewn across the globe.

HNLMS Kortenaer

The HNLMS Kortenaer.

Because the shipwrecks are in relatively shallow seas, scavengers can easily reach them and salvage the wrecks for raw materials. Explosives are often used to break the shipwrecks up, and scavengers can hoist the smaller pieces of steel and aluminum from the sea floor.

Zainal Rahman Karim, a managing director for a local Malaysian diving center, talked about the scavenging problem with the New Strait Times last year.

“It is bad news when divers say shipwrecks in Malaysia are being blown apart,” said Karim.

“The popularity of the sites is declining. How would the survivors feel when they hear that the ships they served on during World War 2 are being torn apart?”

He highlighted the scavenging activity around the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, which had their propellers removed.

Countries from across the world will need to team up to put a stop to this scavenging. “The people who died there should be left in peace,” Theo Vleugels, director of the Dutch War Graves Foundation, tells The Guardian.

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