In Brief

Royal Navy war graves ‘looted for scrap metal’

Defence Secretary expresses concern over reports of pirates disturbing sunken WWII ships

The government is investigating claims that sunken British warships are being plundered for scrap metal.

According to The Times, ten British vessels that sank off the coast of Malaysia and Indonesia during the Second World War have been looted by Chinese barges fitted with cranes. The vessels were designated as war graves for around 1,000 sailors.

The wrecks of four ships lying off Malaysia and Indonesia have been raided, according to the paper. This follows reports that “six further wrecks,” including the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse, were targeted.

Sky News says that other reports have also blamed pirates from Vietnam and Thailand.

The looting of warships is prohibited by the UN International Salvaging Commission. Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, says he is “very concerned” about the reports.

“We will work closely with the Indonesian and Malaysian governments to investigate these claims,” he said. “A military wreck should remain undisturbed and those who lost their lives on board should be allowed to rest in peace.”

According to the Times, the steel in the wrecks attracts looters because it hasn’t absorbed background radiation from atomic weapons. The looted metal can be used for “sensitive medical instruments”.

The pirates reportedly use explosives to break off sections of the wrecks which they raise, or drop massive anchors on the sections to break them apart.

An Australian diving expert told the Mail on Sunday that the metal haul from each ship could fetch “more than £1m” in the Chinese market. He said there were hundreds more wrecks in the region.

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