KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysia's maritime agency has said that it found a cannon shell believed to be from World War II on a Chinese-registered barge, which could be involved in the looting of two British warships resting in the South China Sea.
Malaysian media reported that illegal salvage operators were believed to have targeted the HMS Repulse and the HMS Prince of Wales, which were sunk in 1941 by Japanese torpedoes.
Some 842 sailors died on the two ships, and their shipwrecks off the coast of central Pahang state are designated war graves. Fishermen and divers alerted authorities after spotting a foreign vessel near the area last month.
The vessel, registered in Fuzhou, China, was detained this week for anchoring without a permit off southern Johor state, the agency said, adding that it had 32 crew members, including 21 Chinese, 10 from Bangladesh and a Malaysian.
Officials from the National Heritage Department and others will work to identify the cannon shell, it added.
The UK's National Museum of the Royal Navy last week said it was "distressed and concerned at the apparent vandalism for personal profit."
Pictures and a video released by the agency showed a barge with a large crane and heaps of rusty metal on board. Known as pre-war steel, the material from the two warships is valuable and could be smelted for use in manufacturing of scientific and medical equipment.