I would not classify this maritime heritage site as being my ‘favourite’ but rather as being the one I value most in the world. The particular site I am referring to in this contribution are the remains of the ships from the Royal Netherlands Navy (koninklijke marine) that were sunk during the Battle for the Java-sea in 1942. This battle was extremely important for Allied campaign in the pacific theater of the Second World War as the Japanese victory over the Allies led to the Japanese occupation of the Netherlands East Indies and established their supremacy over the entirety of East-Asia. Over 2300 sailors and marines were killed as a result of this single naval battle.
In 2016 it was discovered that the wrecks of two of the ships from the pacific fleet, Hr. Ms. De Ruyter and Hr. Ms. Java, have completely disappeared and Hr. Ms. Kortenaer partly from their previously known locations. After it was brought to the attention of the Dutch government, an investigation by the Royal Netherlands Navy and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands was performed. it is suspected that the shipwrecks have been illegally removed from their final resting place, presumably for purpose of scrapping the ships and selling the materials.
Important heritage and WW II war grave
The disappearance of Hr. Ms. De Ruyter and Hr. Ms. Java can be seen as a big blow to the Netherlands. Not only have two ships with immense historical importance been lost to us forever, the remains of the thousands of Dutch marines and sailors that were present in the ships have been, presumably, carelessly discarded without a proper funeral and final resting place.
The reason that I attach so much value to this particular maritime heritage site is that my great-grandfather and great-grandmother lived in the Netherlands East Indies and my great-grandfather served there as an officer in the Royal Netherlands Navy. I am quite outraged by the fact that we were not able to protect the remains of those who gave their lives to protect us. It is a good reminder of why it is so very important to carefully guard our heritage sites, because there are many of people who have a personal stake in their survival.
To prevent these cases from happening again in the future, the Dutch government would do well in establishing more international cooperation in the field of heritage management and protection as well as a bigger awareness among the inhabitants of states where these sites are currently present.
By: Auke Heitz maritime archaeology student