BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) – Divers in Thailand have sought U.S. approval to explore the purported wreck of an American World War II submarine, but a U.S. official said Saturday that the vessel is a war grave that must remain undisturbed.

The wreck, thought to be of the USS Lagarto, was discovered in May by divers now trying to obtain Pentagon permission to film and conduct research on the Balao class submarine, Jamie MacLeod, a 43-year-old professional shipwreck diver from Chichester, England, said on Saturday.

Eighty-six sailors perished when the Lagarto sank in May 1945 – reportedly after being hit by mines laid by an enemy Japanese ship about 115 miles off the eastern coast of Songkhla province in the Gulf of Thailand.

MacLeod, who is based on the Thai resort island of Tao, says he is virtually certain the wreck is that of the Lagarto.

, but that he was waiting for U.S. military permission before further exploring the 311-foot, 9-inch boat.

“It’s a war grave. It belongs to the military,” said MacLeod, who wants to film the vessel for a documentary. “We’ve known this was in the Gulf since the end of World War II.”

But a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said the divers would never get permission to study the sub because it belongs to the U.S. Navy and “is a final resting place for the people who went down with it, and it is not to be disturbed.”

She spoke on condition of anonymity, a routine request for U.S. officials at the Embassy in Bangkok. The spokeswoman said she had discussed the submarine with Defense Department officials in recent days.

Divers spent weeks earlier this year scouring Thai waters for the boat, which sits upright on the ocean floor at a depth of about 197 feet, according to MacLeod. “You can see the whole wreck – it’s complete,” he said.

There are many World War II-era wrecks in the Gulf of Thailand and Indian Ocean, including two British battle cruisers off Malaysia and numerous Japanese vessels that went down in Thai waters. Songkhla province is about 590 miles south of the Thai capital, Bangkok.

AP-ES-07-10-05 0429EDT

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