Dutch salvage vessels 'desecrating war graves'

13th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

The heads of seven European naval veterans' associations have accused Dutch salvage vessels hunting for valuable scrap metal of desecrating the war graves of sailors entombed in three British WWI warships off the Dutch coast.

The Royal Navy ships HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy were sunk 35 kilometres off the Dutch coast in 1914 by a German submarine and are the resting places of 1,500 sailors.

Vice Admiral John McAnally, president of the UK Royal Naval Association, said in a statement that the ship graves "should be treated with due care and respect, and not regarded as a source of profitable scrap metal." The soaring price of metals such as copper, aluminium and brass on international markets has made the salvage of scrap metal a lucrative business.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence MoD in London said the UK government "does not condone the unauthorised disturbance of any wreck containing human remains" but had no powers to stop the plunder in this instance. The spokesman said the government could only act against the looters if they were British passport holders or if they were operating from UK-flagged ships.

The MoD said the UK government was continuing to discuss the issue with the Dutch government. A spokeswoman for the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment said Britain had requested the return of materials seized from the salvage ships by Dutch customs officials, such as a bronze cannon, and that it was the intention of the Netherlands to return what it could.

"These are crooks destroying cultural heritage. We have asked the police to investigate and we are in the middle of that process," said Dolf Muller from the Dutch National Service for Cultural Heritage.

© Radio Netherlands Worldwide

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