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Subject: Memorandum Desecration of War Graves at Sea

Dear ISA Friends,

At the impressive memorial service in Athens last May, the Head of Delegation of the Netherlands, Captain Rtd Ruurd van Rooijen, mentioned the illegal salvage of war graves at sea by scrap metal dealers. His plea for protection was graciously seconded by our Greek hosts and followed up by the other Heads of Delegations, for which we are very grateful. As you know, this resulted in the Memorandum Desecration of War Graves at Sea of the ISA.

Since then many developments have happened, about which ISA/NL would like to inform you ahead of our coming ISA Congress.

The situation in the Netherlands:

In 2006 the Netherlands Foundation Relatives Submariners 1940-1945, became aware that our war graves at sea have no legal status compared to the war graves on land. They are not protected by law or treaty.   We were surprised but not particularly alarmed because we knew that the wrecks of the submarines which were frequented by divers were treated with respect.  The local fishing community was happy with the marine life and it helped to provide their families with income.

However, we did start investigations about how the formal status of the wrecks could be improved.  To our astonishment we learned that even in maritime circles the awareness of the fact that war graves at sea are not protected, was hardly present.  But, we took it for granted that a decent treatment of our war dead at sea was as natural as on land, and the need to take action was not imminent.

This changed radically in October 2013, when Vidar Skogli, the skipper who found our WWII submarine KXVI in 2011, photographed the illegal salvage of our submarine O16. He and Dr Andrew Fock, our Australian contact, also informed us about the plundering of wrecks of other nations. An investigation initiated by our Foundation confirmed the destruction of not only O16, but our WWII submarine KXVII was also badly damaged. Sadly the desecration of wrecks of all nations is continuing at an alarming rate.

Last year we brought you up to date in a letter by Ruurd van Rooijen that we sent you together with the Memorandum.

In the Netherlands, protection of wrecks in general has been on the agenda but this was for other  i.e. ecological, educational and historical reasons.

Many organizations are involved: Divers, the fishing community and the Ministries of Finance, Foreign affairs, Education, Infrastructure and Environment, Economic Affairs. Strangely enough, the Ministry of Defence was NOT included anywhere.  The decision trees of all these activities did not include which actions should be taken if human remains might be present in these wrecks. And no special distinction was made for the wrecks of WWII warships.

Developments:

We are happy to inform you that lately a change has occurred, at least in the willingness to listen to our pleas, in the awareness of the situation, and in some tangible and important steps forward.

International:

  • The Governments of Cambodia and Malaysia have been informed by our government and have ensured us that they take the matter seriously.
  • A navigation light and other items that were illegally removed from one of our submarines and other warships and put up at a sale in Australia, were returned to the Netherlands.  They were presented by the Australian Embassy to the Commander of the Royal Netherlands Navy during a ceremony at the Submariners Museum in Den Helder, and have found their way to the respective museums.
  • One of the guests present at the ISA convention in Greece, Tarek Buchmueller, German Attorney at Law, drew our attention to the possibility of presenting a case, or asking for advice, from ITLOS (International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea) in Hamburg. Mr Buchmueller took the necessary steps and is in contact with ITLOS and other relevant institutions together with ISA/NL and our Foundation Relatives 1940-1945.  We are very grateful for his help.
  • Other ISA members have also expressed their support for initiatives in their countries.

National:

  • Questions in Parliament instigated by former MP Captain Rtd Jan Willem van Waning, resulted in answers by our Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs.
  • The Netherlands Ministry of Defence will now be included on a permanent basis in the governmental consultative bodies; the decision tree will be extended with actions to be taken to ensure a decent treatment of human remains in war graves at sea.
  • The ISA Memorandum and the support of the International Submariners Associations were met with great interest by our governmental institutions with respect to their international contacts about this matter.
  • The Netherlands salvage industry has been informed of our worries and is aware of the impact on the relatives.
  • The President of our Foundation Submariners 1940-1945, Rear Admiral Rtd Jan Spoelstra and I were invited for a meeting with the Ambassador for International Cultural Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  This resulted in a meeting with the Interdepartmental Wreck Committee and an invitation for a rewarding meeting with the Governmental Institute for Cultural Inheritance to brainstorm about practical possibilities to protect ships from being looted or destroyed.
  • Actions taken by one of our board members, Commander Res. Jouke Spoelstra (not related to Jan Spoelstra), have resulted in the fact that our Foundation has also been consulted and invited to sign a combined treaty on the protection of wrecks in the North Sea.

There is still a long road ahead but at least we are being heard.

Please keep us informed of possible developments in your countries.

Kind regards,

For ISA Netherlands

Katja Boonstra-Blom

Secretary of ISA/NL and

The Netherlands Foundation Relatives Submariners 1940-1945

isa.netherlands@gmail.com

comite@onderzeeboot.org

28th April 2015

Attachments:

  • Memorandum Desecration War Graves at Sea
  • Letter 2014