Dutch investigators confirm disappearance of WWII ships from seafloor

Hr. Ms. De Ruyter. Photo: NIMH via Dutch Ministry of Defence

After last year’s reports said Dutch warships had disappeared from the floor of the Java Sea, a joint Dutch-Indonesian investigation confirmed initial fears saying that “salvage operations of some kind have indeed occurred”.

The disappearance of ships was first noted in November 2016 when a diving team of the Karel Doorman Foundation conducting research ahead of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Java Sea failed to locate ships.

Presenting the findings of the investigation, Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Jet Bussemaker said the diving team conducted their search in the right area during their November dive.

The three naval ships, HNLMS De Ruyter, HNLMS Java and HNLMS Kortenaer went down in the Battle of the Java Sea on 27 February 1942, claiming the lives of 915 sailors, more than 200 of whom were of mixed Dutch-Indonesian descent.

In their report the investigators said that the two countries will need to further investigate the area where the wrecks were located in order to gather additional information. In a Memorandum of Understanding the Netherlands and Indonesia have agreed to work together more closely in the future, including by sharing available information and expertise for the protection of maritime culture heritage.

These follow-up activities are in keeping with the agreement that Prime Minister Mark Rutte concluded with Indonesia during his visit to the country at the end of last year. At the time, it was agreed that once it had been established that the vessels were no longer there, the countries would work together to determine what had happened and to preserve their maritime heritage in the future.

Rules of the sea dictate that all ships sunk with sailors on board during war time are considered war graves.

This is not the first time ships have disappeared in the region’s waters.

In 2013, the Australian Department of Defense confirmed reports that scrap merchants were stripping HMAS Perth, a World War II warship sunk in the Sunda Strait in 1942.

In 2014 scrappers used explosives to break up parts of HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales, Royal Navy ships sunk off the coast of Malaysia in 1941.

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