Late last year, a team of divers was sent to Indonesia to survey the wreckage of two Dutch ships sunk off the coast of Java during World War II. But when the crew arrived at the location, they discovered something shocking: the shipwrecks were gone. So too were other vessels that should have been in the area, including the Australian submarine USS Perch, British warships HMS Encounter and Exeter, and another Dutch warship, the Kortenaer.
So where did they go? The answer sadly doesn’t involve an inter-dimensional, Bermuda Triangle-esque portal. In fact, the reason behind the disappearances is sadly familiar: the ships were stolen. It turns out the steel used to build WWII ships and submarines can fetch a pretty penny on the black market. And its these market forces that have apparently convinced a bunch of crafty salvagers to try their hand at swiping entire warships from the ocean floor.
What’s not known is who exactly is pilfering them, or how they are selling the steel. The closest evidence we have comes care of Kathryn Miles recent investigate piece over on Outside Magazine, which takes a deep dive into the world of illegal underwater salvage operations.
Illustration: Nicole Rifkin