PETALING JAYA: A ship that illegally stripped shipwrecks off Penang island for scrap metal has been detained and impounded by the northern region Marine Department.
There was a mountain of rusty ship parts and salvage work was in progress when the agency’s officials boarded the ship, which is equipped with a crane, off Kendi Island.
The agency had been alerted about the illegal operation after The Star first discovered the salvaging there last week.
The Cambodian-registered vessel was caught red-handed dredging the Chosa Maru wreck, better known as the Japanese wreck among locals. The skipper and his nine-man crew, all Chinese nationals, have been arrested.
Aside from seizing the ship, the authorities impounded a workboat that accompanied Hai Wei Gong 889, a Chinese-made vessel that was commissioned in 2007.
“The ship does not have the documents for salvage work and was operating illegally in Malaysian waters,” a marine department official said.
The ship, workboat and its crew had been ordered to sail to Lumut, where the ship is now impounded.
“We are also investigating where the vessel had disposed the scrap metal after salvaging at least five shipwrecks off Penang, including the two Japanese World War II wrecks,” the official said.
At this point, he said, the authorities were investigating who the buyer of the scrap metal was.
“The department is also investigating how long the ship had operated in Malaysian waters illegally and whether it had looted other areas besides Penang.”
The official said the department was investigating if the vessel had plundered other ships, both commercial and military, off the east and west coast of Malaysia.
The Star reported yesterday that illegal salvagers had plundered scrap metal from at least five shipwrecks, including two Japanese World War II vessels, off Penang waters since early this year and their activities had gone undetected by the authorities.
The unscrupulous salvagers were believed to have “cleared up” at least two wrecks – the Japanese gunboat Chosa Maru, called Kapal Jepun by locals, which sunk in August 1943, and Japanese light cruiser Kuma that went down on January 1944 – and had taken away metal worth millions.
The other three wrecks that are being salvaged are Japanese warship Haguro, Kapal Taiwan and Kapal Simen, which are all located off Kendi Island.