Investigation into disappeared WWII wrecks in Asia continues

The Maritime Programme of the Netherlands has been involved in a joint Dutch-Indonesian investigation into the disappearance of three Dutch naval World War II ships from the Java Sea. Other countries like Australia, US, UK and Japan have also lost ships in this area which are subject to illegal salvage. Through diplomatic channels these countries are being informed about the progress being made between the Netherlands and Indonesia on joint management and research on the wreck sites.

In November 2016 divers reported the disappearance of (amongst others) the shipwrecks of Hr.Ms. De Ruyter, Hr.Ms. Java and the partial disappearance of Hr.Ms. Kortenaer. During a meeting on 23 November 2016, President Widodo of Indonesia and Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands agreed that the countries would work together to determine what had happened and to preserve their maritime heritage in the future. A three-tracked approach was agreed upon by both governments:

  • Verification of the disappearance;
  • Appreciation of what had happened; and
  • Future cooperation to manage remaining maritime cultural heritage.

On the 6th to the 9th of February 2017 there was a meeting of experts from both Indonesia and the Netherlands for track 1. Aim of the meeting was to get clarity about the identification of the wrecks as Hr.Ms. de Ruyter, Hr.Ms. Java and Hr.Ms. Kortenaer and the status of the wrecks (location, condition). The expert team conducted a joint verification related to the status of the wreck sites that included literature study and analysis on hydrography, oceanography, and archaeology. The joint verification included experts of relevant fields including hydrography, archaeology and cultural heritage management from both governments.

After analysing the available data, experts from the two countries concluded that the diving team of the Karel Doorman Foundation conducted their search in the right area and confirmed that salvage operations of some kind occurred. In their report the experts stated that the two countries will need to further investigate the area where the wrecks were located in order to gather additional information.

After completion of track 1, a first step for track 3 was already made as a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Education and Culture of the Republic of Indonesia and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands was signed. Indonesia and the Netherlands have agreed to work together more closely in the future, including by sharing available information and expertise for the protection of maritime culture heritage.

The manner in which the verification operation took place, in good cooperation with the Indonesia authorities, gives the Netherlands confidence in the future of the investigation. Track 2 will focus on answering the following questions:

  • What could have happened with the wrecks?
  • What is the legal status of these wrecks? (under international and domestic law)
  • What arrangements should be made to be able to cooperate smoothly in preservation and management of maritime cultural heritage in the future?

The outcome of track 2 will be presented by both governments in the near future.

As part of track 3 a joint survey is planned to collect the necessary hydrographic and archaeological data needed for future management. This is now under negotiation.

More Dutch WWII ships have been lost in Asian waters. The status of these wrecks is not well known. With Malaysia, the country where three Dutch submarines have been lost and discovered, there are negotiations on how to best cooperate in the research and protection of these wrecks.