Two WWII Submarine Wrecks Have Been Reported Missing

HNLMS O 16, in the late 1930s. Public Domain

Two Dutch World War II-era subs have gone missing – along with the bodies of the 79-strong crew aboard when they sank close to the Malaysian coast in 1941. All that remains are a few leftover scraps and faint outlines where the vessels used to be. 

There are over 100 shipwrecks from WWII dotted across the ocean floor in the waters around Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, Live Science reports, and international treaties are in place to try to keep them safe and untouched. After all, they are not simply historical relics but the unmarked graves of countless servicemen.

Unfortunately, they are also an enticing source of treasure for salvage divers, who can make upwards of $1.3 million per vessel from the steel alone. That's not to mention the riches that can be earned from the ship's aluminum, copper cables, and phosphor bronze propellers (worth, according to The Telegraph in 2014, $4,700 per ton).

It is estimated that up to 40 WWII-era vessels have been partially (if not completely) lost as a result. A total that, combined, may have carried the bodies of 4,500 American, Australian, British, Dutch, and Japanese crew. That includes the wrecks of the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales in 2014, the HMS Exeter and HMS Encounter in 2016 (all British), and the HNLMS De Ruyter, HNLMS Java, and HNLMS Kortenaer (Dutch) also in 2016.

It also seems to be the fate that's befallen the two Dutch subs, HNLMS O 16 and HNLMS K XVII, sunk by the Japanese in December 1941. 

Jet Bussemaker – a former Dutch minister responsible for veterans who also happens to be the granddaughter of Anton Bussemaker, the commander aboard the HNLMS O 16 when it sank – recalls three instances during her time as minister of having to report a warship missing.

"As a minister, I had to report to the chamber that three other warships had disappeared from Indonesian waters," she told The Guardian. "There were already indications at that time that the O 16 had been tampered with."

The areas around the South China Sea and South West Pacific were a key point of battle between Allied and Axis powers during the war, particularly in the years following the attack at Pearl Harbor (December 1941) – and so, it is unsurprising that it is also the site of many wrecks and underwater graves.

Just this year, Dutch and Malaysian officials signed an international agreement to strengthen protections surrounding submarine wrecks in the area but the illegal activity of deep-sea scavengers (frequently dressed up as fishers to evade detection) is a tricky business to manage.

According to the Duch Defense Minister, Ank Bijleveld, the relatives of the submarines' crews have been notified of their disappearance and a memorial was held recently.

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