Malaysia Thinks Chinese Barge Was Looting WWII Warships

Chinese-registered vessel busted on suspicion of illegally salvaging 2 UK shipwrecks
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 29, 2023 11:08 AM CDT
Chinese Barge Gets Busted for Possible Looting of UK Warships
This photo shows scrap metal and an old cannon shell on a Chinese-registered vessel after it was detained in the waters of east Johor. Malaysia's maritime agency said it found a cannon shell and was investigating looting of two British warship wrecks.   (Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency via AP)

Malaysia's maritime agency said Monday it found a cannon shell believed to be from World War II on a Chinese-registered vessel and was investigating if the barge carrier was involved in the looting of two British warship wrecks in the South China Sea. Illegal salvage operators were believed to have targeted the HMS Repulse and the HMS Prince of Wales, which were sunk in 1941 by Japanese torpedoes, days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. A total of 842 sailors perished, reports the AP, and the shipwrecks are designated war graves. Fishermen and divers alerted authorities after spotting a foreign vessel near the area last month. The agency said it detained the vessel registered in Fuzhou, China, on Sunday for anchoring without a permit off southern Johor state. It said there were 32 crew members aboard, including 21 Chinese, 10 Bangladeshis, and a Malaysian.

The agency said officials from the National Heritage Department and others will work together to identify the cannon shell. Britain's National Museum of the Royal Navy last week said it was "distressed and concerned at the apparent vandalism for personal profit." The maritime agency said it believed the rusty cannon shell was linked to the police seizure of dozens of unexploded artillery and other relics at a private scrapyard in Johor. The New Straits Times reported that the ammunitions were believed to be from the warships and that police conducted an on-site controlled explosion of the weapons.

Pictures and a video released by the agency showed a barge carrier with a large crane and heaps of rusty metal on board. Known as prewar steel, the material from the two warships is valuable and could be smelted for use in manufacturing of some scientific and medical equipment. It wasn't the first time that the two shipwrecks were targeted. The Times reported that foreign treasure hunters used homemade explosives in 2015 to detonate the heavy steel plates on the ships for easy pickings. Other media said authorities detained a Vietnamese vessel involved in the looting of the wreckage at the time. (More World War II stories.)

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