Mainly ceramic pieces found in WWII wrecks

KOTA KINABALU: The salvage of three World War II wrecks involving Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) has led to the recovery of 137 items comprising mainly ceramic pie­ces such as bowls.

UMS released a list of items recovered from the wrecks at Usukan Bay, near Kota Belud, amid persistent questions of whether there were more to be salvaged than just marine archaeological research.

The salvage of the wreck received brickbats by divers and historians who questioned the move.

Tourism Malaysia diving advisor Clement Lee said the state must urgently come up with policies to preserve and protect other WWII wrecks in Sabah waters which have become diving havens.

Apart from the ceramic items, also recovered in the week-long salvage operation from Jan 11 initiated by local firm Ugeens Berjaya Enterprise were anchors, port windows, parts of engines, as well as bauxite and coal samples.

Lee, who attended a briefing by UMS and Ugeens Berjaya representatives to state Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun on Thursday, said he believed there was more to the salvage operations than what they were told.

Then and now: A combination photo showing the World War II shipwreck before and after the salvage work in Usukan Bay.
Then and now: A combination photo showing the World War II shipwreck before and after the salvage work in Usukan Bay.

“One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that a lot of money had to be invested to bring in a salvage vessel from China and to cover the cost from the sale of two books doesn’t quite add up,” he said.

Lee said even Masidi voiced scepticism about the explanation.

“Masidi was right to ask whether those who initiated the salvage work were looking for something else apart from research on them,” he added.

Lee said the claims by UMS officials that only the port and stern parts of the ships were salvaged were implausible as divers who returned to the site found everything gone.

He said the state was right in taking steps to draw up policies to protect other wrecks around Sabah, many of which were located off the northern Kudat district and some near Kota Kinabalu.

He said the approving authority, the Marine Department, would require anyone wanting to carry out salvage works to get the green light from Sabah Parks first.

Lee said the removal of the three wrecks from Usukan Bay may have cost Sabah’s tourism industry as much as RM2mil in revenue annually.

The three wrecks were Higane Maru, Hiyori Maru and Kokusei Maru that were on their way to Manila when they were attacked by the US Navy during the war.

Eighty-three sailors and 45 soldiers were said to have gone down with the three ships.