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Malaysia probes Chinese ship suspected of looting WW2 wrecks

May 30, 2023

While Malaysian officials are investigating the weapons found on the Chinese vessel, Britain has condemned the looting calling it "desecration" of maritime military graves.

A carrier ship anchored at sea
Authorities detained the Chinese vessel for illegal anchorage in Malaysian watersImage: Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency via AP/dpa/picture alliance

Malaysia questioned a Chinese-registered vessel suspected of looting two British World War II shipwrecks.

The ship was seized over the weekend after it anchored without a permit off Malaysia's southern Johor state, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency chief in the region, Nurul Hizam Zakaria, said on Tuesday.

Authorities found scrap metal and cannon shells on the ship.

A rusted shell and scrap metal
Malaysian authorities believe the shells could be from two British World War II shipwrecksImage: Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency via AP/dpa/picture alliance

"Our investigation is now directed to where these cannon shells originated from. Right now, we have officers from multi-agencies searching the big ship," Zakaria said.

The crew of 32 included 21 Chinese nationals, 10 Bangladeshis, and one Malaysian.

Wrecks targeted by scrap metal scavengers

Authorities believe the ammunition may be from the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, which were sunk in 1941 by Japanese torpedoes days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense condemned the "desecration" of maritime military graves.

The cannon shells could also be linked to artillery that was discovered at a jetty in Johor on May 19, the maritime agency said in a statement Monday.

Malaysia's New Straits Times newspaper reported in recent weeks that illegal salvage operators had targeted high-grade aluminum and brass fixtures from the two British warships.

mf/kb (AFP, AP, dpa)