The Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands is cooperating with Indonesia in the project Wrecks of the Java Sea. This project investigates the disappearance of three Dutch naval World War II ships from the Java Sea.

Dutch shipwrecks in the Java Sea

Hr.Ms. De Ruyter, flagship of Rear Admiral Karel Doorman, Hr.Ms. Java and Hr.Ms. Kortenaer were torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Battle of the Java Sea that took place on the 27th of February 1942. As a result of this 915 men died. The defeat of this first battle on the 27th and smaller concessive engagements the days after meant not only the loss of the Battle by the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM) but also the occupation of the Dutch Indies by the Japanese.

Until 2002 the locations of the lost ships were unknown. On the 1st of December that year, an Australian tech-dive team discovered what they believed were the light cruisers Hr.Ms. De Ruyter and Hr.Ms. Java. The approximately 170 m and 155 m long ships were identified on specific features and photographically recorded. Two years later (2004), they claimed to have found the 98 m long destroyer Hr.Ms. Kortenaer as well.

The wrecks have not been officially reported to either the Netherlands or Indonesian authorities. For several years however the wrecks were subjected to technical (tourist) dive trips and commemoration visits on the sea surface. In 2008 the visiting of the two cruisers was recorded on film. The wrecks were lying well-preserved on the seabed. A small number of items was lifted from the wrecks in consecutive years. Four bells with the names of the Java and the Ruyter and other objects that found their way to an auction house in Australia, the Navy Museum in Den Helder and places like the War cemetery in Surabaya.

In 2016 another dive trip to the sites was organised by MV Empress in order to record the wrecks on film for the 75 years commemoration of the Battle of the Java Sea on the 27th of February 2017. During that trip it was noted that on the same positions they had dived earlier, no wrecks were present of what they had identified as De Ruyter and Java. Only large trenches and some metal pieces of shipwrecks were discovered in the area. On the location of the supposed Kortenaer only a small fraction of the earlier discovered shipwreck parts remained on site.

Agreements have been made between the Netherlands and Indonesian government to investigate what may have happened to the sites of the three Dutch Navy ships Hr.Ms. De Ruyter, Hr.Ms. Java and Hr.Ms. Kortenaer. A three-tracked approach was agreed upon by both governments. The preliminary results can be found in the Report of the Dutch Shipwrecks in the Java Sea.