8 arrested for hindering shipwreck study in central Vietnam

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Police try to keep out locals from the site of a 500-year-old shipwreck in the central province of Quang Ngai

Police in the central province of Quang Ngai Friday arrested eight people for allegedly obstructing authorities from studying a 500-year-old shipwreck that was recently discovered.

They are suspected of instigating hundreds of locals in Binh Son District to prevent the survey, the police said.

On October 13 people had thrown stones at the police, destroyed signboards indicating it was a restricted area, overturned a police car, injuring seven officers, and damaging three other cars and a canoe.

The suspects are being investigated for "acting against people on public mission," "deliberately destroying properties," "openly depriving others of their properties," and "disturbing public security."

Earlier, in an interview with VnExpress, Nguyen Duy Viet, chairman of the Binh Son District People's Committee, said locals believed that antiques on the ship discovered in September, were worth VND120 billion (almost US$6 million).

So they thought grabbing just one dish or bowl from it would fetch them much more than fishing offshore, he said.

They were not aware that the ship was a national asset, thinking instead that it was theirs since they discovered it, he said.

He also expressed concern that the situation could worsen when related agencies begin to salvage the antiques.

Vietnam's heritage laws require residents to hand over relics they find to authorities in return for a cash reward of 15-30 percent of their value.

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Since the ship was discovered in early September, reportedly by a group of fishermen in Binh Chau Commune, fishing boats and antique hunters have flocked to the site.

They found numerous items around 100 meters from the coast and 1.5 meters under the seabed in waters three meters deep, and reportedly sold them for billions of dong.

But Quang Ngai authorities soon stepped in, closing off the site and seeking the government's permission to salvage the ship's cargo.

According to local archeologists, the relics date back to the 14th century when the Yuan Dynasty ruled in China. They speculated that the ship might have burned down and sank.

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