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The depths of the ocean are very mysterious, what with all the weird fish and sea creatures, shipwrecks and maybe even sunken treasure down there. It’s no wonder scuba diving is such a popular activity, since you never know just what you’ll come across.

Last weekend, some Japanese divers off the coast of Palau thought they knew what they were going to see when they dove to the underwater grave of a Japanese warship. However, they were surprised to discover something new and peculiar at the site: a Chinese flag. Hm, that wasn’t there last time…

▼ This wreckage is all the divers expected to find.

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The former Japanese Imperial Navy tanker Iro was used before and throughout the Second World War until it was sunk by the Americans on March 30, 1944. The wreckage now lies eight kilometers (five miles) south-west of Koror Island in Palau. At depths between 26 and 40 meters (85-130 feet) underwater, it has become a popular destination for scuba diving trips.

Only days away from the 71st anniversary of its demise, the Japanese Imperial family had plans to visit Palau to pay respects to the many men who lost their lives in the battle. Anticipating the Emperor’s trip, a Japanese news team made an investigative dive to the site on March 21. Upon reaching the stern of the ship, they found the quite unexpected Chinese flag. 

▼ Whoa, how’d that get there?

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The meter-long flag was attached to the coral covered gun platform on the remnants of the stern and was held in place with wire and zip ties. Setting up the flag was probably not easy, but so far no one is taking the credit (or the blame, depending how you look at it). Considering the symbolism, though, there’s a high probability it was placed there by Chinese divers, a theory further supported by the fact that Palau has become a popular tourist destination for Chinese citizens.

▼ Underwater footage of the surprise find

The Japanese divers who found the flag were quite upset by the sighting. It’s hard to say what the motive for this act was, but given the timing, it’s possibly in response to Japan’s actions during the war or a proclamation of China’s rising power. Some people are asserting that it’s just another example of the poor manners of Chinese traveling abroad.

▼ This isn’t the first time a Chinese flag has been placed at the bottom of the ocean though. There was a similar incident in the South China Sea in 2010.

Following the discovery of the flag, Palauan President Thomas Remengesau issued a statement that he was “extremely disappointed” over the incident. Vice President Antonio Bells, who concurrently holds the position of Minister of Justice, issued an order for the flag’s removal, and while it is unclear what specific organization carried out the procedure, as of March 23, the Chinese flag is no longer attached to the wreckage of the Iro.

Sources: Sankei News, Kokushoku Chugoku Blog, Hokkaido Shimbun Press
Images: YouTube (Kyodo News)