Authorities halt antique rush on new shipwreck discovery

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Dozens of boats gather to fish for antiques at the site where a centuries-old ship was discovered a couple of days ago in the central province of Quang Ngai

Authorities in the central province of Quang Ngai Sunday blockaded the site of a centuries-old sunken ship, after its discovery drew hundreds of people to the area in a mad rush for antiques.

As Thanh Nien reporters observed, as of Sunday night, the antique rush in Chau Thuan Bien hamlet, Binh Chau Commune, stopped after local police officers and border guards sent away more than 20 fishing boats and hundreds of antique hunters.

However, many antique collectors from all over the country rushed to buy the recovered objects, estimated to be dated back to between the 15th and 17th centuries, that same day. The transactions were said to be worth up to multi billions of dong in total.

A source told Thanh Nien that a group of fishermen in Binh Chau discovered the ship a couple of days ago and that they had recovered nearly 200 bowls, dishes and vases until news of the discovery hit the media on Saturday.

Throngs of people then rushed to grab antiques from the ship, which was reportedly located some 40-50 meters from the coast, despite a ban on such activities by local authorities. 

Nguyen Van Hong, a local diver, told Thanh Nien that the wreckage was buried some 4.5 meters under water. Some boats were dredging to reach deeper items. 

"Everyone digs, and everyone dives. No one wants to lose anything to others so they fight right under the sea, breaking most of the antiques," said fisherman Pham Dinh Ngoc. "Just one or two of every ten retrieved items are undamaged."

Doan Ngoc Khoi, vice director of Quang Ngai Museum, was quoted by VnExpress Sunday as saying that china bowls local border guards managed to confiscate from several people showed that they belonged to China's Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

During that time many ships from China came to Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean for trade, he said, adding that the discovered ship could have sunk in Vietnamese waters area due to bad weather.

According to Khoi, in 1999 the museum excavated tens of kilograms of antiques, mainly china and stone objects, also dated to the Ming Dynasty, from the same area.

Some of the antiques are on display at the Hanoi-based Vietnam National Museum of History, he said.

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