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January 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 32, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Vanishing Warships

from the January, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The wreck of the Royal Navy's heavy cruiser HMS Exeter was rediscovered by leisure divers in 2002. The ship had been a casualty of Japanese action during the bitter battle of the Java Sea in 1942. It lay at 195 feet deep (60m) south of Borneo, in Indonesian waters.

However, a survey carried out ahead of the 75th anniversary of the sinking has revealed nothing but indentations in the seabed where the wreck formerly lay. Three other ships have similarly disappeared; the Dutch vessels HNLMS De Ruyter and the Java and the USS Perch. A third Dutch vessel, the HNLMS Kortenaer, is reported with a large section now missing.

The inevitable conclusion is that these wrecks have been salvaged illegally. Salvage ships often pose as fishing boats to disguise their activities, but it is remarkable that such large vessels have been removed without drawing the attention of the authorities.

The Dutch government has launched an investigation into the fate of the wrecks, which were classified as war graves and protected under UNESCO's Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage 2001. The Indonesian government refuses to take any responsibility and is less than contrite, with an Indonesian Navy spokesman saying, "If they ask why the ships are missing, why didn't they guard the ships?"

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