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Mystery as wrecks of three Dutch WWII ships vanish from Java seabed

There are fears the sunken vessels off Indonesia, which are the graves of 2,200 people, may have been salvaged for metal

HNLMS Kortenaer, which was sunk in the Battle of Java in 1942 Photograph: Royal Netherlands Navy / Koninklijke Marine / Wikipedia

An international investigation has been launched into the mysterious disappearance of three Dutch second world war shipwrecks which have vanished from the bottom of the Java Sea off the coast of Indonesia.

The Netherlands defence ministry has confirmed that the wrecks of two of its warships that sank in 1942 have completely gone, while large parts of a third are also missing.

The wrecks were first found intact by amateur divers in 2002. But a new expedition to mark next year’s 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Java Sea discovered the ships were missing.

While sonar shows the imprints of the wrecks on the ocean floor, the ships themselves are no longer there.

The ministry said in a statement: “The wrecks of HNLMS De Ruyter and HNLMS Java have seemingly gone completely missing. A large piece is also missing of HNLMS Kortenaer.”

All three ships sank during the Battle of the Java Sea, which turned out to be a disastrous defeat for Dutch, British, American and Australian sailors by Japanese forces in February 1942. It was one of the costliest sea battles of the war and led to the Japanese occupation of the entire Dutch East Indies.

HNLMS De Ruyter, which was sunk in the Battle of Java in 1942. Photograph: –

About 2,200 people died, including 900 Dutch nationals and 250 people of Indonesian Dutch origin, and the wrecks have been declared a sacred war grave.

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