British second world war shipwrecks in Java Sea destroyed by illegal scavenging

Exclusive: 3D mapping report of sea off Indonesia, seen by the Guardian, shows large holes in the seabed where ships used to be

The Royal Navy heavy cruiser HMS Exeter sinking during an operation in the Java Sea on 1 March 1942. The shipwreck has been plundered by scavengers. Photograph: US Naval History and Heritage Command

Three British ships and a US submarine that sank in the Java Sea during the second world war have been destroyed by illegal scrap metal scavengers, archaeology can reveal.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence said it condemned the “unauthorised disturbance of any wreck containing human remains” and requested Indonesian authorities investigate and take “appropriate action”.

The commercial salvaging of war wrecks has caused significant upset among veterans, historians and governments who want to preserve the final resting place of sailors who went down with their ships.

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