Two British WW2 battleship wrecks have been looted by a Chinese ship

Malaysian authorities have seized a Chinese-registered bulk carrier suspected of looting British WW2 shipwrecks for "pre-war steel."
Christopher McFadden
HMS Prince of Wales in Singapore, circa 1941.

Royal Navy/Wikimedia Commons 

Malaysian authorities have intervened and detained a Chinese vessel suspected of looting British WW2 shipwrecks. The Chinese-registered bulk carrier, seized on Sunday, May 28, was anchored above the shipwrecks of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse in the South China Sea. According to the BBC, the seized vessel was plundering old WW2-era ammunition from the wrecks which were sunk 80 years ago by Japanese forces. The act has been described as a "desecration" of war graves by the British Department of Defence.

Scavengers often seek out old shipwrecks like these to acquire the rare low-background steel, commonly called "pre-war steel." This type of steel is precious in the medical and scientific fields due to its low radiation levels. Widely used in modern particle detectors, this kind of steel is usually obtained from ships through regular scrapping or shipwrecks. It is preferred over contemporary steel due to the lack of contamination by nuclear fallout.

After the cessation of atmospheric nuclear testing, background radiation levels have significantly reduced and reached natural levels. Consequently, special low-background steel is no longer necessary for most radiation-sensitive applications but is still prized by some.

For decades, the British ships located on the ocean bed approximately 60 miles (100km) off the east coast of Malaysia had been repeatedly targeted. During the war, the Royal Navy dispatched the battleships to Singapore to strengthen the defense of Malaya.

Unfortunately, they were sunk by Japanese torpedoes on December 10, 1941. The ships were sunk just three days after the attack on the U.S. fleet in Pearl Harbour, which resulted in the death of around 842 sailors. This incident is still regarded as one of the most catastrophic disasters in British naval history.

The seizure of the Chinese ship comes a month after fishermen and divers informed Malaysian authorities about a foreign vessel being present in the area. On Sunday, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) detained a Chinese ship registered in Fuzhou with a crew of 32 onboard.

During a ship search, suspected World War II cannon shells were discovered. Malaysian agencies are currently investigating the source of the ammunition, but the ship's location makes the source of them pretty obvious. According to the MMEA, a collection of unexploded artillery believed to be from the two sunken vessels was recently confiscated by the police from a scrap yard in the southern state of Johor.

During his visit to Malaysia in 2017, a diver from the local area presented Prince Charles with photographs depicting the damage caused to the HMS Prince of Wales by scavengers like those onboard the captured Chinese ship. At that time, the Defence Secretary assured the U.K. would collaborate with the Malaysian and Indonesian governments to probe allegations of theft of as many as six British warships in their territorial waters.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board