The bulk carrier Chuang Hong 68 was spotted anchoring illegally in the South China Sea. The vessel is suspected of plundering steel from shipwrecks. This “pre-war steel” is low in radiation. This makes it invaluable, particularly for the manufacture of medical and scientific equipment.
The wrecks are HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse. Both were sunk by Japanese naval torpedoes just a few days after Pearl Harbour. A total of 842 sailors perished in the attack. Today, the wrecks are considered war graves.
The Malaysian navy arrested the Chinese ship, registered in Fuzhou. It had 32 crew members on board, including 21 Chinese, 10 Bangladeshis and one Malaysian.
This is not the first time that shipwrecks have fallen victim to vandalism. In 2015, homemade bombs were used to detonate the ships’ heavy steel plates. This facilitated access to retrieve materials and objects from the ships.
In 2016, Indonesia was also accused by the UK and the Netherlands of recovering iron ore from three ships sunk in 1942.