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Battling thieves to save battleship HMS Prince of Wales at the bottom of the sea

Prince Charles meets amateur diver, Stephen Flew. Credit: PA

A British diver has been given some royal appreciation for his efforts to save a sunken Royal Navy battleship from metal thieves.

HMS Prince of Wales was sunk in 1941 by the Japanese and is now at the bottom of the South China Sea off the coast of Malaysia.

Prince Charles – the current holder of the title for the male heir to the throne, the Prince of Wales – thanked Stephen Flew, who has been diving to the upturned ship – a war grave – on the sea bed.

The warship is regularly targeted by thieves who steal its metal.

Mr Flew, who has a day job in petro-chemicals, works with the Malaysian Navy – and reports his sightings of any new damage.

Sea patrols are then dispatched to protect HMS Prince of Wales.

The prince, who is on a tour of Malaysia with the Duchess of Cornwall, met Stephen Flew at an air force base in Penang.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force cooperates with the British military as part of a long standing agreement dating back to when Malaya was a British colony.

HMS Prince of Wales was downed in a battle with planes from the Imperial Japanese Navy in December 1941.

It killed 327 British sailors.

HMS Repulse, a battle cruiser, was also lost.

The ships are considered war graves as they contain the bodies of more than 800 men who went down with them.

Since the sinking in the Second World War, there has not been a Royal Navy ship called Prince of Wales until this year.

Prince Charles officially named the second of Britain’s new aircraft carriers in September.

Her predecessor is now being protected by an amateur diver as her metal hull, at the bottom of the sea, is targeted by thieves.