Malaysia detains Chinese ship suspected of looting British WW2 wrecks
A Chinese vessel suspected of looting two British World War Two shipwrecks has been detained in Malaysia.
The bulk carrier, registered in China, was apprehended for illegally anchoring in the South China Sea on Sunday, report says.
The report adds, “Upon inspection, ammunition believed to be from the sunken HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, which were attacked by Japanese forces over 80 years ago, was found on board.”
The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense had previously condemned the alleged raid as a disrespectful act toward maritime war graves.
Scavengers often search for a rare type of steel known as “pre-war steel” in old shipwrecks.
This low-background steel is highly sought after for its minimal radiation levels and is used in scientific and medical equipment.
The British ships, resting on the seabed around 100 kilometers (60 miles) off Malaysia’s east coast, have been a target for scavengers for some time.
During the conflict, Royal Navy battleships were dispatched to Singapore to bolster the defense of Malaya. Unfortunately, on December 10, 1941, Japanese torpedoes sank the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse.
The attack resulted in the loss of around 842 sailors, making it one of the most devastating naval disasters in British history. Remarkably, the incident occurred just three days after the Japanese attack on the US fleet in Pearl Harbor.
Fishermen and divers had alerted Malaysian authorities to the presence of the foreign vessel last month.
On Sunday, local maritime police detained the Chinese ship, which is registered in Fuzhou. According to a statement from the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), the vessel had a crew of 32.
During a search of the ship, cannon shells suspected to be from World War Two were discovered. Malaysian agencies are now investigating the origin of the ammunition.
Earlier this month, police had seized a cache of unexploded artillery, believed to be from the two sunken vessels, from a private scrap yard in the southern state of Johor.
In 2017, during a visit to Malaysia, a local diver showed Prince Charles images documenting the damage inflicted by scavengers on the HMS Prince of Wales.
At the time, the Defense Secretary stated that the UK would collaborate with the Malaysian and Indonesian governments to investigate claims of looting involving up to six British warships in their waters.