Defence secretary Gavin Williamson has demanded an immediate investigation into fresh allegations of illegal salvage from Royal Navy vessels sunk during the early months of 1942 in the Far East, reports Andy Brockman.
Mr Williamson was responding to a front-page story and editorial, published in a leading tabloid newspaper, which claimed a further three British warships have been heavily damaged by salvage vessels.
The latest vessels affected are HMS Tien Kwang, sunk on 14 February 1942 while escaping from Singapore – with just four survivors of more than 300 crew and refugees on board – and HMS Kuala, from the same convoy, which was lost with up to 200 fatalities. Many casualties, including women and children, were refugees from Malaya and Singapore.
A third vessel, HMS Banka, sunk on 9 December 1941 with the loss of 38 lives, is also said to have been salvaged under conditions that breach the UN Salvage Convention.
The reports follow confirmation of damage to the wrecks of two capital ships that sailed as the ill-fated Force Z, Prince of Wales and Repulse, sunk on 10 December 1941, and the cruiser Exeter and destroyers Electra and Encounter lost in the Java Sea in early 1942.
While the defence department findings are awaited, Colonel Jamie Roylance RM, of the British Embassy in Jakarta, told the same newspaper he hoped work with the Indonesian government to create “special protection zones”, around the wrecks of HMS Exeter and the two destroyers, would be completed by the end of this year. The US, Dutch and Australian governments have also been investigating similar allegations concerning their sunken warships. ∎