Large boats from outside Malaysia carrying groups of divers are illegally scavenging for scrap metal from ships sunk during World War II near Pulau Tioman off Pahang, the New Straits Times (NST) daily reported yesterday.
The South China Sea area is a graveyard for more than 100 ships and submarines, including the historically important HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse that were sunk by the Japanese navy in 1941, the report said.
The two ships were deployed by the British to counter Japanese forces during World War II.
The salvage operators masqueraded as fishermen to avoid detection, NST quoted sources as saying, as they used GPS to locate these sunken ships.
Buoys are also used to mark working sites. The parts brought up included propellers, steel parts, high-grade aluminium and brass fixtures.
The boat operators are mostly from Vietnam and Thailand, the report said. They use thin rubber hoses connected to rusty air compressors on their boats to provide breathing air to their divers some 60m below the waters.
Explosives are first set to break up the ship's hull so that the parts can be brought up in smaller pieces.