By: John Grady
An illegal Chinese salvage operation is raiding two United Kingdom World War II warship wrecks off the coast of Malaysia for scrap steel, aluminum and brass fittings, prompting a statement of concern from the Royal Navy, USNI News has learned.
Chuan Hong 68 used a large dredging crane to pluck scrap from the wrecks of battleship HMS Prince of Wales (52) and battlecruiser HMS Repulse, according to local press reports. Both were sunk on on Dec. 10, 1941, days after Pearl Harbor, by Japanese bombers, resulting in the loss of 840 sailors.
The illegal salvage has thrown a sharp spotlight on how vulnerable historic heritage sites are to thieves intent on plundering war graves, the director general of the Museum of the Royal Navy said in a Tuesday statement.
“What we need is a management strategy for the underwater naval heritage so that we can better protect or commemorate these ships. That may include targeted retrieval of objects,” Dominic Tweddle said.
“If resourced correctly, the existing Royal Navy loss list can be enhanced to be a vital tool to begin to understand, research and manage over 5,000 wrecks before they are lost forever.”