Graves on seabed outlawed

Not only in the Java Sea, but also in the Wadden Sea and the North Sea, war graves are being violated on the seabed.

That is what researcher Remy Luttik from Groningen says. He recently contacted relatives of British sailors who found their grave in the Dutch coastal waters, because he is worried about the violations of the graves of deceased passengers. In England, the issue leads to much fuss.

Human remains
In British media it is written that divers from North Netherlands among others are involved in the plundering of sunken warships and submarines. These include the British submarines E5 and E3 from the First World War, which rest on the seabed north of the island Schiermonnikoog. Although they are war graves, divers brought up numerous objects. The chance that they also encountered human remains is high.

“There are in fact sometimes skeletons in and around such wrecks. It is just desecration of graves. It is very serious. I know of a case where divers opened a compartment of a submarine. They will not easily admit that they occasionally encounter human remains, because then they have a problem,” says Luttik.

He wants the government to do more to protect war graves and maritime heritage under water. “The importance of the relatives is completely forgotten. It is ultimately about those people and not about the archaeologists. ”

‘Heavily exaggerated’

Diver Henk Bos from diving team Zeester from Lauwersoog thinks the case is being exaggerated. “We do not destroy any heritage at all. The only thing we do is monitor the wrecks. We work together with the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE), they also monitor us. ”

“It is not a matter of grave robbery at all. You cannot find anything at all from people on the seabed. And as far as those ships are concerned: iron corrodes, you only encounter copper, bronze and wooden objects. And what we do not take with us from the seabed, disappears under the sand, ” said the diver.

Willemien van de Langemheen of the RCE recognizes that protecting sailors’ graves is complicated, especially when a wreck lies outside Dutch territorial waters. But, she also says: “With war graves there are always victims. We believe that people should handle this carefully and leave them alone. ”


SP Member of Parliament Sandra Beckerman, trained as an archaeologist, is concerned about the way in which shipwrecks and possible human remains of crew members are dealt with. ,, I find it worrying. Many divers do good things. But it still goes wrong on a large scale. The minister must pay much more attention to this. This also applies to enforcement. The Heritage Inspectorate is only very small. ”

In October 2016, the German Consulate General sent a lawyer to diving team Zeester. In a letter, he demanded the wreckage from the German cruiser SMS Mainz, which sank in the Battle of Helgoland in August 1914. “You brutally violated the sailor’s grave of the 89 deceased crew members, a criminal offense”, the lawyer wrote to the divers on behalf of the consulate.

There are about 1200 shipwrecks north of the Wadden Islands and 30,000 in the entire North Sea.


Translated by Noordzee Maritiem from original article published on March 8th 2018 written by Gerdt van Hofslot (Dagblad van het Noorden)

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