Dutch Battle of the Java Sea warships disappear from seafloor

Three Dutch warships sunk off the coast of Indonesia in 1942 have disappeared from the seabed of the Java Sea, Dutch defense ministry has noted.

The ministry said the cause of the disappearance was unknown. The wrecks of Hr. Ms. De Ruyter and Hr. Ms. Java seem to be completely gone while Hr. Ms. Kortenaer is still visible with a large portion missing.

An international diving team conducting research ahead of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Java Sea next year noted the disappearance, the ministry noted.

Dutch defense minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert expressed concern commenting: “The Battle of the Java Sea is part of our collective memory. The wrecks are silent witnesses of this tragic event and set the stage for the many stories about the horrors of war but also the camaraderie between people on board.”

Hr. Ms. De Ruyter, Hr. Ms. Java and Hr. Ms. Kortenaer sank and hundreds of Dutch sailors died in the Java Sea, north of Surabaya, on February 27, 1942. Among the deceased sailors was the Dutch Rear Admiral Karel Dorman who had the opportunity to survive but chose to sink with his ship according to old navy tradition.

Rules of the sea dictate that all ships sunk with sailors on board during war time are considered war graves.

If an investigation concludes that the war graves were desecrated, this will not be the first time this has happened in the region’s waters.

In 2013, the Australian Department of Defense confirmed reports that scrap merchants were stripping HMAS Perth, a World War II warship sunk in the Sunda Strait in 1942.

In October 2014, British Telegraph reported that scrap dealers scavenged wrecks of British battlecruisers sunk off the coast of Malaysia in 1941. The report said scrappers used explosives to break up parts of HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales and bring them back to surface.