Dutch WOII submarines in Malaysia and Vietnam

Partly as a result of recent developments regarding the three disappeared Dutch wrecks in the Java Sea, the Netherlands government is now looking into the state of five Dutch WOII submarines: the Hr.Ms. O 16, Hr.Ms. O 20, Hr.Ms. K XVI and the Hr.Ms. K XVII which lay in Malaysian waters, and the Hr.Ms. O 19 which lays in Vietnam. The government has been notified by several organisations that also these wrecks are under threat of (commercial) salvaging.

The first information we received in 2013, when a crane vessel was observed over the site of the Dutch submarine Hr.Ms. O 16 with a large amount of salvage material on deck. It was revealed that the O 16 had been salvaged almost completely and only some large debris remained on the bottom. The nearby site of the Hr.Ms. K XVII had also undergone salvage but to a more limited degree. According to divers, the Hr.Ms. K XVI was still very intact in 2014. However, the situation with illegal salvage occurring throughout this region at present indicates that these sites are at considerable risk.

Deck mounted torpedo tube doors of the Hr.Ms. K XVII.
Deck mounted torpedo tube doors of the Hr.Ms. K XVII.

On 13 February 2017, Indonesia and the Netherlands signed an official Memorandum of Understanding on cultural heritage cooperation. Defined in this Memorandum of Understanding is a framework for cooperation in the field of maritime archaeology and cultural heritage management with a special focus on VOC and warship wrecks in Indonesian waters. However, these five submarines lay in Malaysian and Vietnamese waters. The Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands will take the government to government approach to try to protect and preserve the submarines. The intention is to work with our Malaysian and Vietnamese counterparts together at the management and protection of the wreck sites of these five submarines.

In the process the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Education, Culture and Science are involved.The first priority is to get clarity about the identification of the shipwrecks and their status (location, condition), as up until now no official research has been done on the wreck sites.