Malaysia investigates Chinese ship over looting of British WWII wrecks


Discovery of relics come amid recent reports of scavengers plundering two British shipwrecks.

Malaysia investigates Chinese ship over looting of British WWII wrecks

An undated photo released by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) on May 29, 2023, shows a China-registered bulk carrier ship detained for anchoring illegally in the waters of east Johor.

Malaysia said Tuesday it had detained a Chinese-registered ship carrying what is believed to be World War II-era cannon shells and was investigating the vessel’s alleged involvement in the plunder of wreckage from two British warships in the South China Sea.

The bulk carrier, registered in the southeastern Chinese city of Fuzhou, was seized on Sunday after it anchored illegally off the coast of Johor, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) said.

While inspecting the vessel, maritime authorities discovered rusty cannon shells, scrap metal, bullets and other relics believed to be from World War II. 

Discovery of the ammunition comes amid recent reports of scavengers looting two British shipwrecks, the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, which were sunk by Japanese torpedoes in 1941.

The 32-member crew – including 21 Chinese, 10 Bangladeshis and a Malaysian – are being questioned at the Tanjung Sedili Maritime Zone, said Nurul Hizam Zakaria, the MMEA director for Johor state.

“We are still investigating and our priority is to obtain statements from the crew members,” he told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated news service.

The maritime agency said it was looking into a possible link with a separate seizure of relics and ammunition from a private scrap yard at Tanjung Belungkor in Johor. 

Malaysian newspaper the New Straits Times reported the Johor seizure was believed to be from the British World War II wrecks, which are located about 100 km east of Malaysia in the South China Sea.

“We at the MMEA cannot simply mention the British World War II wrecks because it is not confirmed yet and is still under investigation,” said Zakaria.

Following reports last week, a spokesperson for the UK Ministry of Defence told the BBC it condemned the “desecration” of maritime military graves and would take “appropriate action.”

The MMEA, the Royal Malaysian Police and the Department of Malaysian Heritage are investigating the recent seizures.

“Our officers are currently on-site to determine whether these relics are related to British World War II shipwrecks,” deputy head of the heritage department Mohd Muda told BenarNews.

BenarNews has contacted the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur for comment.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.

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