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British warships being raided for scrap metal – report

3:59 am, 19th August 2018

The 10 ships are designated as war graves and lie off the coasts of Malaysia and Indonesia, where they contain the graves of more than 1,000 sailors.

But a Mail On Sunday report says they have been raided by Chinese pirates in recent years, with their structures looted and the remains of fallen war heroes disturbed.

Previous reports have also blamed operators from Vietnam and Thailand.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the government “absolutely condemns” the unauthorised disturbance of any wreck containing human remains.

“I am very concerned to hear any allegations of incidents of Royal Navy wrecks being plundered in the Far East,” he said.

“We will work closely with the Indonesian and Malaysian governments to investigate these claims.”

The newspaper said that the operations were being carried out by Chinese-owned barges which drop massive anchors on the sunken ship to smash it.

They send down long cranes to collect the metal, which is taken to Indonesian scrapyards and cut into smaller pieces.

It is then taken to China and enters the world steel market.

According to an Australian diving expert quoted in the report, the metal haul from each ship can fetch more than £1m and the Indonesian government estimates there are hundreds of military shipwrecks off its coast.

But the plundering of the wrecks is against the UN International Salvaging Convention and also breaches the laws of Britain, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Among the ships targeted are HMS Encounter, which sank in the Java Sea in 1942 and has 80% of its wreck salvaged; and HMS Banka, which sank off Malaysia in 1941 and has been dredged up completely, according to investigators.

HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, which both sank in December 1941 off Malaysia, have reportedly been ripped apart and at least half of their structures taken.

Ships from other countries have also fallen victim – last year it was reported that HMAS Perth, an Australian warship which sank in 1942 between Java and Sumatra, had been looted.

The Australian National Maritime Museum, which investigated the wreck last year, said some 3,000 tons of metal had been removed.

The USS Houston, an American warship which went down in the same battle, was found to have been targeted, according to a report in 2014, and Dutch ships have also been plundered.