Malaysia Busts Chinese Ship Allegedly Responsible For Looting 90% Of WW2 Shipwrecks In SEA

The Chinese vessel was found carrying artefacts believed to be from British ships that sank in Malaysian waters in 1941.

Cover image via Agensi Penguatkuasaan Maritim Malaysia (Facebook)

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The Malaysian naval authorities have nabbed a foreign vessel allegedly wanted for stealing artefacts from World War II shipwrecks across Southeast Asia

On Sunday, 28 May, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) said it found and detained a cargo ship for anchoring illegally at 20.1 nautical miles east of Tanjung Siang off the coast of Johor.

The Chinese barge was found carrying artefacts, including scrap metal, artillery shells, and about 100 cannonballs, believed to be from British ships, HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales, that sank in Malaysian waters in 1941.

Image via Harian Metro

Johor MMEA director First Admiral Nurul Hizam Zakaria said they detained the ship at 12.45pm for anchoring illegally when crew members failed to present granted permission

He said the vessel, registered in Fuzhou, China, had a crew of 32 members, including Chinese nationals, Bangladeshis, and a Malaysian.

Further inspection of the artillery shells and cannonballs led the MMEA officers to suspect that the cargo ship was related to another alleged incident, where a vessel fled after it was found unloading looted artefacts in a Tanjung Belungkor scrapyard in Johor earlier this month.

"We never stopped looking for the vessel. We have been combing our waters round the clock, hunting them down. They went off the radar by switching off their GPS and WiFi systems," said Nurul Hizam, as quoted by New Straits Times.

He added that they are also investigating if there was a larger ship anchored outside Malaysian waters for the cargo ship to offload the stolen items.

Image via Astro Awani

The artefacts have been handed over to the National Heritage Department to verify if they are indeed from the British shipwrecks

Until then, the case is being investigated under Section 491B(1)(L) of the Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1952 for anchoring without prior approval.

However, New Straits Times also reported sources claiming that the vessel is responsible for looting 90% of other World War II shipwrecks in the region, including in Singaporean, Cambodian, and Vietnamese waters.

It is also allegedly wanted by Indonesian authorities for plundering the remains of Dutch warships HNLMS De Ruyter, HNLMS Java, and HNLMS Kortenaer in the Java Sea.

Nurul Hizam said the MMEA would be working with its Indonesian counterparts regarding the case.

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