Friday, December 22, 2006

 

Calls to stop divers desecrating underwater war graves

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icWales.com
By Molly Watson
December 18, 2006

CAMPAIGNERS have warned that a legal loophole is enabling divers to desecrate the war graves of hundreds of British servicemen killed at sea, including those who died on Sir Galahad.

Videos and photographs posted on the internet have revealed a growing number of companies are taking divers inside battleships, such as HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse. Items taken from the ships have also appeared on eBay and some DVDs have even included footage of human remains.

Falklands hero Simon Weston, who suffered severe burns the fire that engulfed the Sir Galahad when it was hit, yesterday called for new international laws to ensure wrecks are given the same respect as war cemeteries.

He added that stealing from the wrecks was "deplorable" and akin to grave-robbing.

Although HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Repulse and Sir Galahad are designated war graves under the Protection of the Military Remains Act 1986, this act only applies to British citizens.

There is no law preventing foreign nationals from diving on wrecks in international waters.

Hannah Rickard, whose father survived the sinking of the Prince of Wales, said, "People are in tears about this - it is disgusting. It is obvious from some of the videos and photos circulating that the graves of these men are being disturbed.

"If it was British divers doing it, they would be prosecuted. I think the public would be amazed that foreign divers can get away with interfering with maritime war graves simply because they are not British citizens.

"The Americans have been very effective in protecting their ships. Our Government should be looking to do the same. Otherwise, where will this end? We already have reports that people may be diving on the Sir Galahad.

Mr Weston was serving as a Welsh Guardsman on Sir Galahad when it was bombed by Argentine jets during the Falklands War.

The attack killed 50 British servicemen.

Yesterday, he said visiting the wrecks was not wrong in itself, as long as they are treated with proper respect - and that they needed official protection.

He said, "I would be surprised if people were able to dive on the Galahad. It's so far down and the water is very cold.

"But, that being said, to dive and just have a look at these wrecks I don't see as a problem. It's not ghoulish at all. We have battlefields that we go to in this country and the Tower of London where lots of people died.

"But these wrecks need to be treated with the respect of a military cemetery.

"And there is a problem when you start to take away artefacts. These are war graves. We would be appalled if someone were to do the same in a war cemetery.

"And it's the same with plundering a ship. It's completely wrong, it's grave-robbing.

"From my perspective, I think it's deplorable but, in hundreds of years' time, when people have forgotten about the sacrifices people made, it will become the done practice. Unless, that is, we get a law through. We cannot hope for a great deal but, if the political will is there, then maybe it will get passed.

"The sad thing is most countries don't have the same feeling about graves as we do.

"If you could get worldwide laws, something as simple as nobody is allowed to rob, pillage or take artefacts from war graves, then we would have achieved something."

HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse were sunk by Japanese torpedos off Kuantan on the Malayan coast in December 1941. Around 840 men and women died on board.

Following pressure from the Government, some companies have removed footage of dives from their websites, although they still run trips to the wrecks.

Baroness Crawley said the Government was continuing to raise the issue from foreign governments and also aimed to educate diving companies about the historic importance of the wrecks.


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