Cambodia – WWII-era shipwreck found off Koh Rong

Shipwreck found off Koh Rong 1

A group of six divers led by The Dive Shop Cambodia owner Dennis Funke have discovered what they believe is the wreckage of a Japanese merchant vessel sunk by a US Navy submarine during World War II.

The cargo ship is suspected to be the steam-powered Burma Maru, and was discovered on Tuesday last week over the course of a two-day dive. The find was the result of nearly five years of research, Funke told The Post yesterday.

“I got the information from the log books of the submarine that shot the boat,” he said, adding that the shipwreck was within 1 nautical mile of the coordinates logged by the Navy submarine, the USS Swordfish.

Funke – whose team of divers based in Cambodia and Thailand included Tim Lawrence, Ivan Karadzic, Oliver Zaiser, Mikko Paasi and Leon Webber – said that the wreck, which was about 60 nautical miles (more than 110 kilometres) from Koh Rong island, presented a daunting technical challenge. Diving at a depth of 52 to 67 metres, the team made use of techniques and military-grade technology they say had not been put to the test before in the Kingdom.

“I never expected to make such a deep dive in Cambodia,” he said.

Shipwreck found off Koh Rong 2
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Diver Mikko Paasi surfaces after a visit to a wreck believed to be the Japanese merchant ship Burma Maru, sunk by the US submarine USS Swordfish during World War II. A group of divers found the vessel last week after five years of research. Mikko Paasi

According to their observation, the wreck is 120 metres long, and while name markings were not visible, it matched the expectations they had for the Burma Maru, which was sunk on June 12, 1942.

“What we believed is that the ship was hit by a torpedo [that] ripped off the bow of the boat, and so it began sinking head first, which put pressure on the stern of the wreck, which blew out the doors and windows, throwing out debris,” he said.

According to records by Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, the Burma Maru was built in 1917 at the Kawasaki Dockyards in Kobe, Japan, measured 117 metres in length and its last owner was the Nanyo Kaiun KK shipping company. The ship’s cargo at the time of the sinking has yet to be determined.

The sinking of the Burma Maru – which was not a Japanese Imperial Navy vessel – fell under the December 7, 1941, order by the US chief of naval operations to conduct unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan.

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