Vietnam detains man for taking relics from sunken boat

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Pottery jars believed to have come from a 14th Chinese boat. The relics were seized from local divers by Binh Thuan Province authorities.

Police in the south-central province of Binh Thuan detained a man on Thursday to investigate the origins of a number of artifacts he allegedly found in the sea.

Nguyen Hung Khanh, owner of a ship whose diving crew allegedly recovered pottery jars from a 14th century shipwreck recently, was apprehended Monday and the artifacts were all seized by provincial authorities.

He said the antiques in his crew's possession were found from a sunken ship in the country's southern waters.

He revealed the coordinates of the boat to authorities but the details were not made available to the local media.

A local fishermen said many out-of-towners, possibly antique dealers, have been scouring local homes for relics after hearing about the supposed discovery.

"They said the relics were valuable as they look like they are pottery items from the Ming Dynasty."

Le Tien Phuong, chairman of Binh Thuan Province, said he has asked the province's culture department to set up a group to study the antiques. Local officials have been tasked with collecting all of the items.

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

But the government usually fails to obtain many relics because dealers offer finders much better prices.

Experts have said that the government also loses out because it doesn't do enough to actively look for the items itself.


A 14th century Chinese boat from the Yuan Dynasty was discovered by fishermen in Quang Ngai Province on September 8, a hundred meters off the coast and 1.5 meters under the seabed in waters three meters deep. Hundreds of relics have been taken by divers as the province and the central government continue "discussing plans" to salvage the boat.

The Seabed Exploration, an excavation company of shipwrecks relics in Southeast Asia, estimated Vietnam's waters have 40 old sunken ships.

But Vietnam has only excavated five over the past ten years, and always after local residents discovered and exploited them first.

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