During 1942's Battle of the Java Sea, Japanese forces sunk three ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy – the HNLMS De Ruyter, HNLMS Java (above), and HNLMS Kortenaer. Over 2,200 Dutch sailors lost their lives when the light cruiser, cruiser, and destroyer sank. With the battle's 75th anniversary around the corner, the Dutch Ministry of Defense launched an expedition to the wreck sites, only to find that 2.5 of the ships are missing.
"The wrecks of HNLMS De Ruyter and HNLMS Java have seemingly gone completely missing. A large piece is also missing of HNLMS Kortenaer," the Dutch MoD said in a statement. The disappearances have prompted an international investigation into the missing sacred war graves after sonar images showed impressions on the sea floor, but no shipwrecks.
"An investigation has been launched to see what has happened to the wrecks, while the cabinet has been informed," the Dutch MoD said in a statement.
According to The Guardian, over 100 ships from World War II alone went down in the waters around Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia and illegal salvage and scrap operations have been a chronic problem. The US Navy found the wreck of the cruiser USS Houston, sunk in the Battle of Sunda Strait, desecrated two years ago, and called it an "unauthorized disturbance of the grave site."
While the Dutch didn't outright blame scavengers and scrapers, its statement insinuated that illegal divers could be involved, calling the "desecration of a war grave a serious offense."