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Government concerned over claims of looting on Second World War shipwrecks

Six wrecks are feared to have been damaged or destroyed by scavengers.

The Government is investigating fresh reports that a number of British Second World War wrecks in Asia have been plundered by grave robbers.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said he was “very concerned” to hear allegations that remains of four ships lying off the Malaysian and Indonesian coasts have been looted.

It comes after six wrecks, including Royal Navy battleships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, were feared to have been damaged or destroyed by scavengers.

Altogether the wrecks are thought to be the final resting place for hundreds of Royal Navy sailors and civilians.

Mr Williamson said the Government “absolutely condemns” the unauthorised disturbance of any wreck containing human remains.

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Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson condemned the reports (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“I am very concerned to hear any allegations of incidents of Royal Navy wrecks being plundered in the Far East,” he said.

“We will work closely with the Indonesian and Malaysian governments to investigate these claims.”

The Mail on Sunday said wrecks of HMS Tien Kwang, HMS Kuala, HMS Banka and SS Loch Ranza had recently been targeted by thieves for their metal.

HMS Tien Kwang, a submarine chaser, and HMS Kuala, an auxiliary patrol vessel, were carrying hundreds of evacuees when they were attacked by Japanese bombers near the Indonesian Riau Islands on February 1942.

Earlier that month the SS Loch Ranza, a cargo ship, had been set on fire in a Japanese air raid off the Riau Islands and exploded, killing seven men.

It came after HMS Banka, a minesweeper, sank after hitting a mine off the coast of Malaysia in December 1941, killing its crew of four British officers and 34 Malay sailors.

Looters are said to favour targeting the Second World War-era wrecks because of the ship steel’s properties.

Built before the advent of atomic weapons, the metal has absorbed little background radiation, making the material suitable for sensitive instruments.

Royal Navy battleships HMS Prince of Wales, where Churchill and Roosevelt signed the Atlantic Charter, and HMS Repulse both sank off the Malaysian coast, on December 10 1941.

In 2014, the ships, the last resting places of more than 830 Royal Navy sailors, were found to have been damaged by scavengers.

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