To the members of the International Community of Submariners Associations.

Dear ISA friends,

At the meeting of the ISA Heads of Delegations in Athens on May 30th 2014, our host, Vice Admiral Raditsas, kindly agreed to bring forward our plea for an international legal regime on the protection of war graves at sea.

We would like to inform you about the present situation:

The large scale plundering and illegal salvaging of several war graves at sea by scrap metal dealers, without any concern for the remains of the crew, has been confirmed and we have obtained indisputable evidence by video and photographs of the allegations. This recent full-scale desecration of the resting places of our war dead came as a surprise and a shock to us. An Australian report in October 2013 about the destruction of one of our submarines HNLMS/M O16 and the information about several other warships has made us painfully aware of the situation.

We now have obtained independent reports and confirmation about the plundering and in some cases complete destruction or even disappearance of several wrecks all over the South China Sea. Most of this has happened in the past months. This is not restricted to the Asian waters but due to the prices of high quality metals and scrap metal has become common practice. This can happen or is already happening to your own submarines and other vessels.

Considerable damage has also been reported about HM Ships Exeter, Electra, Encounter, Prince of Wales and Repulse, USS Pope, HMAS Perth, the Japanese Cruisers Haguro and Kuma. Recently reports have been coming in about salvage attempts of other ships including a commercial British ship that had families on board, with children and babies. This is why it is crucial we all press for international action.

There are occasions where the salvage of a war ship is necessary. This is acceptable. However, this should be done with respect for the dead, if possible with a short ceremony and in case there are still remains of the crew, these should be brought back to their respective countries. The circulation on internet of photographs of the skull of a crewmember of a submarine found last year in Indonesian waters (the remains of 17 bodies were still in the boat) is a nightmare to all relatives.

War graves on land are protected. Every country has their organization, sometimes heavily subsidized. Children adopt graveyards; politicians visit the memorials and bring tribute to the dead. Relatives can bring flowers to the graves and there are annual services.

For the warships this is different. Even more so for the boats and ships that are “still-on-patrol”

Countries have been engaged in war and, unfortunately, there will be conflicts in the future. Accidents also happen; men and women are killed and will be killed while serving their countries. We owe it to all of them, the deceased of the past and maybe of the future, that they can rest in peace.

What we would like to accomplish is:

  • Awareness of the problem and an international approach.
  • Internationally supported protocols for the protection of (war) graves at sea.
  • Agreements with official ship salvaging companies about a proper and respectful approach if salvage is necessary.

How can we achieve this?

  • Inform your government, your politicians, ask them if they are aware of the situation and ask for an official answer.
  • Inform the defense attach├ęs of your country.
  • Investigate what is happening to the war graves of your own country.
  • Ask for legal support

In the attachment a concept memorandum is included for presentation.

Actions that have been taken:

  • One of the barges that has illegally been involved in at least 5 cases of plundering and salvaging has very recently been detained and impounded.
  • Navigation lights and other items have been removed by treasure divers from submarines (and other warships) sunk during World War 2 in the Pacific theatre of war. These items were put up for sale at an auction in Australia. Swift action of the Australian authorities resulted in the withdrawal from the auction of these stolen items. They will be returned to the flag state.

We are very grateful for your support and for keeping us informed about the activities you or your contacts have undertaken, so we can possibly facilitate international actions.

Given their sacrifice our war dead deserve our support.

If you need more information please let us know.

July 2014
Ruurd van Rooijen( Captain RNLN Rtd)
Chairman ISA Netherlands