West Pac metal pirates strike again
The illegal scrappers of the Malaccan Straits and Sea of Java, in the search for cheap “low background steel,” have notoriously broken many of the venerated shipwrecks of the 1942 naval clashes of the area to include desecrating the graves of the Royal Navy’s E-class destroyers, HMS Electra and HMS Encounter, along with the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter (of Graf Spee fame). The Royal Netherlands Navy’s cruisers HNLMS De Ruyter, HNLMS Java, and HNLMS Kortenaer were likewise plundered, with some wrecks reportedly disappearing completely.
American and Japanese ships have similarly been vandalized.
Many of these ships have simply vanished from the seafloor, to include the human remains resting inside their compartments for 70 years.
“We often found the bones,” an Indonesian ship breaker told The Guardian in 2018. “We worked here all the time, so we didn’t pay attention to them, whether there was bones or no bones, it made no difference to us.”
“There were plenty of human skeletons inside that ship. They gathered them, put them in a sack, and buried them here. I think there were four sacks,” another man told the Guardian. “Like the ones used to carry rice.”
Closer to Singapore, Malaysian junkers have hit the wrecks of HMS Repulse, HMS Prince of Wales (of Bismarck fame), as well as HMS Tien Kwang and HMS Kuala.
Add to this list, according to Dutch media, are the lost submarines HNLMS O 16 and HNLMS K XVII, along with the 79 men they carried.
At the start of the war in the Pacific, the Netherlands had at least 15 submarines based at Surabaya in the Dutch East Indies (O-16, O-19, O-20, K-VII, K-VIII, K-IX, K-X, K-XI, K-XII, K-XIII, K-XIV, K-XV, K-XVI, K-XVII, and K-XVIII.) While they fought hard against the Japanese and got a lot of licks in, O-16, O-20, K-XVI, and K-XVII were all lost early in the conflict while K-VII was later sunk in harbor by Japanese bombs, and K-X, K-XIII, and K-XVIII was scuttled at Surabaya to prevent their capture.
Many of these lost onderzeeboten are now gone in every sense of the word.
Now more than ever, the expression “On a sailor’s grave, there are no roses blooming (Auf einem Seemannsgrab, da blühen keine Rosen)” remains valid.