At least two sunken Dutch warships have vanished from the bottom of the Java Sea.
According to Dutch News, three warships that sunk during the 1942 Battle of the Java Sea “have largely disappeared from the sea bed.”
Defence Minister Jeanine Hennis told members of parliament that two sunken cruisers and a portion of a sunken destroyer have disappeared from the sea floor, likely as a result of illegal salvage, the Dutch News reported.
According to British newspaper The Guardian, the wrecks were first found by divers in 2002, and the missing wrecks were recently discovered during a diving expedition in preparation of the marking of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Java Sea.
“The wrecks of HNLMS De Ruyter and HNLMS Java have seemingly gone completely missing. A large piece is also missing of HNLMS Kortenaer,” the newspaper quoted the ministry of defence as saying.
Over 2,000 people died during the battle against the Japanese and the shipwrecks have been declared a war grave, according to The Guardian.
“An investigation has been launched to see what has happened to the wrecks, while the cabinet has been informed,” the defence ministry said. “The desecration of a war grave is a serious offence,” the ministry said in a statement.
According to Dutch News, illegal divers, sometimes posing as fishermen, have been stripping the wrecks of metal, selling it as scrap.
“The Battle for Java Sea is part of our collective memory,” Hennis said. “The wrecks bear silent witness to the tragic events and form a backdrop to the many stories about the terrors of war and the comradeship between crew.”
The Guardian reported that not only are Dutch wrecks disappearing but three British ships and a U.S. submarine have been destroyed as a result of scrap metal salvagers. The U.K. government has requested Indonesian officials to launch an investigation and take “appropriate action to protect the sites from any further disturbance.”
“Many lives were lost during this battle and we would expect that these sites are respected and left undisturbed without the express consent of the United Kingdom,” The Guardian quoted the ministry of defence as saying. “It is British Government policy that our military wrecks are offered appropriate protection and management.”