Not every act of piracy happens on the high seas. Recently, the greatest thefts are occurring under the water, as several World War Two shipwrecks have literally disappeared from their resting places.

Illegal salvage at shipwrecks is unfortunately more common than you might think, but some World War Two ships have completely vanished—leaving only imprints in the sea floor where they had lain. The scope of this illegal salvage is hard to comprehend as many of the ships that disappeared weighed several thousand tons. From a more human perspective, these ships were sunk in battle, meaning that they are the resting places of the crew who perished. International law treats these shipwrecks as war graves and demands that they be respected and left in peace.

Did you know?

  1. The disappearing shipwrecks were all in the seas around Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia.
  2. The thefts are not nation specific; American, Dutch, British, and Japanese ships have all vanished.
  3. The disappeared ships include HNLMS De Ruyter, HNLMS Java, HMS Exeter and HMS Encounter, and several other ships which have completely or partly disappeared.
  4. These ships all rested at a depth where salvage was a significant technical challenge, and no one is sure who took them or where the boat remains went.
  5. With their thick armour and large size, warships are valuable targets for salvagers.
  6. Propellers alone (made of phosphor bronze) can fetch thousands of dollars per ton on the salvage market, each weighing multiple tons.
  7. Steel from WWII, before the detonation of atomic bombs, is called “low-background steel” and is especially valuable for some scientific applications.
  8. By comparison, steel produced after the atomic age contains higher background radiation (due to how it was made), making it less suitable for low-radiation tools and instruments.
  9. The thorough extent of the salvage jobs raise questions about how it could they could have been accomplished without people noticing. Investigations are ongoing by several countries.