Tomorrow, July 14, 2019, Stichting Duik de Noordzee Schoon (foundation for keeping the North Sea clean) will return from a ten-day expedition to the North Sea that started on July 5, 2019. Part of this expedition is the search for the Dutch submarine Hr. Ms. O-13 who left Dundee, Scotland for Norway on June 12, 1940 to intercept German warships. According to Trouw, who discussed this with the chairman of Stichting Nabestaanden Onderzeeboten 1940-1945 (Committee of relatives of the crews of Submarines 1940-1945), Jan Spoelstra (78).
If the Dutch submarine Hr. Ms. O-13 is located, is not clear in the article. It will become clear first on Sunday whether the mission has been successful. Although it is very important for the relatives that attempts are made to locate the missing submarine, you could seriously question the fact that the cooperation is sought with Stichting Duik de Noordzee Schoon.
Four years ago, it is September 2015, when Stichting Duik de Noordzee Schoon headed to the North Sea for the eighth expedition (4 – 14 September). “Expeditie Doggersbank” took place in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund, Stichting de Noordzee (foundation the North Sea) and Sodexo. During this expedition they also visited the wreck of a submarine, it turned out to be a German submarine. Although the team on board during the expedition is in the dark about the identity of the submarine, the following was stated in their press release:
The 9-day diving expedition of Stichting Duik de Noordzee Schoon has produced spectacular results. The diving team found new and rare species on the artificial reefs of the Doggersbank, Klaverbank and Bruine Bank. Just across the border with England a German submarine from the Second World War has been found. The divers have also recovered 2000 kg of nets, lead and other waste.
However, Stichting Duik de Noordzee Schoon later adjusted their press release to the following:
The 9-day diving expedition of Stichting Duik de Noordzee Schoon has produced spectacular results. The diving team found new and rare species on the artificial reefs of the Doggersbank, Klaverbank and Bruine Bank. A German submarine has been found just across the border with England. The divers have also recovered 2000 kg of nets, lead and other waste.
Today Stichting de Noordzee still has the original text of the press release on their website.
However, on August 22, 2015, another Dutch diving team had visited the same wreck and although they initially thought it was a submarine from the Second World too, soon artefacts emerged that pointed in the direction of a submarine from the First World War. On September 8, 2015, this dive team salvaged a tag from the engine room, which provided conclusive proof of the identity of the submarine, SMS U-31. This diving team had been informed of the location by a fisherman who did not know what kind of wreck it was, but that it was large and perhaps interesting for the wreck divers. A diver from Stichting Duik de Noordzee Schoon, who is very concerned with shipwrecks, on the other hand, had found a report of this location with the description “submarine” in the system of the English hydrographical service.
Three years earlier, in September 2012, a survey team of energy companies Scottish Power Renewables and Vattenfall, while mapping the soil for the new wind farm East Anglia ONE, an unknown submarine appeared. This finding was also reported to the Dutch Navy because the survey team was aware that the Netherlands are intensively looking for Hr. Ms. O-13. In May 2013, the Dutch Navy conducted on-site investigations with a REMUS UAV team from the Defence Diving Group, but due to bad weather, the results were poor.
In August 2014, again a REMUS UAV team from the Defence Diving Group went to the location. The weather was now cooperating, various dives were being made from Hr. Ms. Makkum on the wreck and good video images were made with a GoPro. Closer examination of the information gathered and intensive desk investigations by the Navy concluded that it had to be a submarine from the U-31 – U-41 series, of which only U-31 and U-37 were missing in the North Sea. With this, the investigation was completed and the Navy was unable to determine at that moment which of the two submarines was involved.
Back to September 2015 and Stichting Duik de Noordzee Schoon and their findings about the wreck. The press release also contained the following passage:
The diving team dived on known and unknown wrecks to investigate the historical value of the wrecks in addition to the biodiversity. For example, they found a complete German U-boat that lies upright just across the border in English water. This is special because the towers of U-boats have mostly been demolished. The content of the submarine has not been investigated and remains a mystery. The escape hatch has been salvaged to identify the submarine and is being donated to a German museum.
They write here that the contents of the submarine has not been investigated, but that they have salvaged the escape hatch to identify the submarine and which would be donated to a German museum. This is an escape hatch that was closed and therefore must have been unlocked. The divers also talked about a number they had seen, U 96, but this submarine was scrapped after the Second World War.
During the 2015 expedition there was also a certified underwater archaeologist among the divers. I spoke to this underwater archaeologist in 2016 and was told that it looked like a herd of buffalo had grazed the wreck. This archaeologist was so shocked by this that the archaeologist would never go along again with this type of expedition from Stichting Duik de Noordzee Schoon.
At the beginning of 2018 I spoke with the person who had the escape hatch in his garage and he indicated that he was thinking of putting the escape hatch back on the wreck during the 2018 expedition. I made various attempts to secure the salvaged artefacts and to get them to the Marine-Ehrenmahl museum in Laboe, but in vain, they are probably scattered in sheds, gardens or on the mantelpiece at various Dutch wreck divers.
The board of Stichting Duik de Noordzee Schoon says that it rejects this behaviour and discourages artefact hunting. The divers mask the artefacts by putting them in the mail bags in which they also put pieces of fishing nets and other junk they remove from the wrecks. If photos of artefacts are posted on social media, people will be addressed to remove these images.
The wreck of the submarine from the First World War, SMS U-31, has been a popular wreck among Dutch wreck divers since the discovery and various diving teams visit the wreck regularly. Many divers have one or more artefacts from this wreck. As far as I know, no artefact has gone to a German museum.
Back to the current expedition of 2019, where intensively is sought for the Dutch submarine Hr. Ms. O-13 by the diving team of Stichting Duik de Noordzee Schoon. The chance is very likely that if Hr. Ms. O-13 is found by Dutch divers, the wreck will therefore become the subject of an artefact hunt.
Stichting Duik de Noordzee Schoon is primarily focused on media attention, because media attention generates opportunities for subsidies. The Dutch government is well aware of the activities of Dutch wreck divers. Yet they work together with the wreck divers and back them up.
I am therefore very curious to know what the chairman of the Stichting Nabestaanden Onderzeeboten 1940-1945 thinks of the fact that various artefacts have been illegally salvaged from war wrecks which have the sovereign immunity status, and which are probably still among Dutch wreck divers somewhere in a corner, standing on the mantelpiece or decorating the garden. And how does the foundation view the collaboration with Stichting Duik de Noordzee Schoon? And, although the artefacts of SMS U-31 have been illegally salvaged, does Stichting Nabestaanden Onderzeeboten 1940-1945 also believe that these artefacts should not have been salvaged at all and now that they have been salvaged, that they should end up as quickly as possible in a German museum?