Near Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, there are more than 100 World War II shipwrecks scattered along the seafloor. Until recently, that number included the Dutch submarines HNLMS O 16 and HNLMSK XVII.
Those subs were sunken off the coast of Malaysia in 1941 and had been visible from the air since then. But in late June 2019, according to Dutch media reports, both of the vessels disappeared, only leaving behind a shadow of the place where they once rested.
The Dutch government assumes that scrap-metal scavengers stole the two subs. Apparently, it isn’t uncommon for pieces of the wreckages to slowly get picked at. According to a report by The Guardian, over 40 of these sunken ships have been affected by scavengers. This also includes the desecration of thousands of crewmen who went down with their ships.
The process of scavenging these ships usually includes blowing them up underwater and then spending weeks at a time collecting the remains. Sometimes, the scavengers’ haul can be worth up to millions of dollars in steel and other parts of the ships.
Shipwrecks are protected under an international treatise as the unmarked graves of deceased soldiers. However, that hasn’t slowed down the problem of people looting from them. In 2018, Malaysian officials signed a deal with the Dutch to protect sunken Dutch war vessels. This occurred after the disappearance of three Dutch warships in 2016, one of which included the remains of 2,200 people.