In recent days, an international controversy has erupted over China‘s alleged efforts to carry out an illegal salvage operation for a sunken battleship during World War II.
As the world turned its attention to repair work on the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales, another HMS Prince of Wales has made headlines, but this is not a story of restoration but one of illegal salvage. The situation has provoked a heated debate since sunken warships are traditionally considered war graves, which generates an ethical and patrimonial conflict.
Background on the Sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse
To better understand the context of this situation, it is important to go back to December 10, 1941. On that date, the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse were sunk by Japanese aircraft in Malaysian waters. Sadly, These warships became the first naval aviation casualties on the high seas during World War II, marking the end of an era of mighty battleships.
Since then, these wrecks have been considered official war graves and given a special status to honor those who lost their lives on them.
Unearthing the Controversy
Recently, the Chinese ship Chuan 68 sightings have been reported illegally prowling the area where the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse were sunk. According to reports, this Chinese vessel is looking to extract high-quality steel used in the construction of the hulls of warships. This act has generated great concern and has sparked the ire of the British press, which regards this illegal salvage as a personal attack on the Royal Navy and its historical legacy.
Admiral Lord Alan West, former head of the Royal Navy, expressed his outrage at these actions, calling them disgusting and painful for the families and next of kin of the sailors killed on HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales. West stated: “They are cemeteries with all the bodies still there. These Chinese scrappers or scrappers don’t give a damn about this. These strong words reflect the deep sensitivity and respect expected of warship wrecks and those who rest on them.
Official Recovery and Preservation Efforts
So far, only the warships’ bells have been officially recovered, and these are on display at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, located in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. However, this incident has highlighted the need to address the problem of illegal salvage operations around the world.
Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, has raised concerns about the self-dealing vandalism of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse. Tweddle has urged the implementation of an underwater naval heritage management strategy to protect and commemorate these vessels properly. In addition, he has called on the Royal Navy to develop a comprehensive policy to investigate and manage the more than 5,000 existing wrecks before they are lost forever.
International Concerns and Other Sunken Shipwrecks
This incident in China is not an isolated case. In addition to the British vessels, wrecks of 40 Australian, Dutch and Japanese warships and merchantmen have been found in the same waters off Indonesia and Singapore. There have even been reports that the same Chinese vessel has looted the remains of sunken Dutch warships in the Java Sea.
This situation has generated growing international concern and has highlighted the need to urgently address the problem of illegal salvage operations on historic wrecks.
Importance of Preserving Naval History
Preserving these sunken warships is crucial not only to honor the crews who served on them and sacrificed their lives but also to keep alive the history of the Royal Navy and its valuable contribution during World War II.
Each sunken ship tells a story and represents a tangible testimony to the events that shaped the past. By preserving these wrecks and protecting them from destruction and looting, we ensure that future generations can appreciate and learn from them.
In summary, China’s alleged illegal salvage of World War II battleships has generated great international controversy. The Royal Navy and the international community have strongly condemned these actions, as sunken ships are considered war graves and deserve due respect and protection.
It is necessary to establish a strategy for the management of underwater naval heritage that allows the proper protection and commemoration of these historic wrecks. Likewise, a call is made for the Royal Navy to develop policies that investigate and preserve shipwrecks before they are lost forever.