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Vietnam Struggling to Keep Treasure Hunters in Check

Since 1998, numerous ancient vessels have been found of the coast of Quang Ngai Province. The ships hold thousands of ancient artifacts, mainly ceramics as these waters were once part of the ‘Ceramic Road’ which linked East and West. Unfortunately, these sites are mismanaged and unprotected, leading to mass looting and the destruction of centuries-old artifacts:

“One recent discovery saw fishermen find an old sunken boat near the shore. What happens? Thirty vessels appear, even though it is almost midnight, and the scramble for booty begins around 100 meters off Chau Thuan Bien Village of Binh Son District underwater.

Apparently, there was more than 4,000 fully intact antiques recovered with some believed to be from the 13th century, maybe many more were damaged in the chaos. Many people used axes and crowbars to take the antiques smash and grab style only to break many pottery plates and bowls.”

Local police arrived at the scene attempting to protect the site, they were met with rocks and hostility, resulting in the injury of 5 officers and an overturned police car.

While fishermen claim finders-keepers rights to the vessles, the law is not on their side:

“According to Decree 96/2009, dated October 30, 2009, regarding buried and sunken property which is discovered on the mainland, on islands and in the sea of Vietnam, the said antique items belong to the State. Vietnamese laws also require finders to hand over the found objects to authorities for a cash reward of 15-30 percent of the value of a relic. A decent enough cut you would think for any would-be treasure hunter.”

Head over to Tuoi Tre to read more about these vessels, the fake-antique market they’ve created and the state of Vietnam’s remaining ancient boats.

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