Dredge Linked to WWII Wreck Desecration Has Been Arrested Again

Courtesy MMEA

Published Jul 2, 2024 7:21 PM by The Maritime Executive


The Chinese grab dredge that allegedly desecrated the wrecks of two famous WWII warships off Malaysia has run into trouble with the law once more. The notorious Chuan Hong 68 has been detained by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) again, this time over paperwork violations. 

Last year, Malaysian authorities detained Chuan Hong 68 off Johor for allegedly crushing and removing the wreckage of the Royal Navy battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse, which were sunk by Japanese forces during the invasion of the Malay Peninsula in December 1941. Both are protected war graves. In May 2023, local residents obtained video of the vessel unloading what appeared to be a large cannon, dripping with mud, at a Malaysian scrapyard (below). 

(Elizabeth Vostox / May 2023)

During the May 2023 boarding of the Chuan Hong 68, inspectors found rusting artillery shells and other scrap. The penalty for the crewmembers could be as much as two years in prison if convicted of desecrating wrecks, according to the New Straits Times. "MMEA] does not rule out the possibility that this vessel is involved in the theft of old British warship wrecks," the agency said at the time. 

As recently as January 2024, Johor Police's unexploded ordnance team was called out to deal with aged, rusted artillery shells found at the scrapyard where Chuan Hong 68 offloaded her cargo. This included two 130mm shells - roughly equivalent to a 5.25-inch gun, of which HMS Prince of Wales had eight - and 55 aging 40mm shells, the standard size for the "pom-pom" antiaircraft guns used by the Royal Navy in WWII. 

The MMEA has not released an update on the case over the course of the intervening 12 months, and Chuan Hong 68 has repeatedly returned to the same operating area northeast of the Singapore Strait, often disappearing from AIS for weeks at a time. This is the same region where she was operating when she was detained in 2023, and is approximately the same area as the HMS Prince of Wales' last known position. 

On the afternoon of July 1, the MMEA and the Royal Malaysian Navy boarded Chuan Hong 68 at a position just off Tanjung Hantu, Perak state - on the opposite side of the Strait of Malacca from the dredge's previous area of operation, and about 300 nautical miles northwest of Singapore. 

Courtesy MMEA

This time, the inspectors did not find illegal scrap, but they did spot 60 unregistered LPG tanks on deck. They also found paperwork irregularities in the vessel's documents and port clearance certificates. The ship and the entire crew have been detained pending an investigation. 

"Malaysian Maritime insists on the maritime community to always obey the laws set in order to avoid action being taken," MMEA said in a statement.