Salvaged shipwreck claimed by museum leaves divers high and dry

Salvaging a 19th century steam-engine shipwreck turns out to be more trouble than its worth, as a group of farmers-turned-divers found out. The Vietnamese pair, who supplement their income by selling salvage recovered from the bottom of the Red River ran into trouble with the authorities when the local authorities declared the shipwreck an ancient artefact to be claimed under the museum.

Sunken treasure
Vietnam Net Bridge, 04 April 2009

Everyday for 20 years Ha Cong Ao and Hoang Dinh Dang have risked their lives diving to the bottom of the Red River in search of discarded valuable materials. When they discovered a sunken 19th century ship they thought they’d come up trumps but now they’re not so sure.

On the banks of the Red River in Khoai Chau district, Hung Yen province sits a recently salvaged boat that was built sometime in the 19th century. Now broken in two the boat was once 30m long and 5m wide. The bronze steam-engine and screw-propeller are intact, however, so there is enough evidence to suggest that this ship was a real beauty in its day.

But the divers, who discovered the boat, are now staring at the shipwreck and wondering if dredging up the past was such a good idea. At first, of course, they thought they’d struck gold. “People say we hit the jackpot but in fact we are sitting on a land-mine,” says 53-year old Ha Cong Ao. “We emptied our own pockets and borrowed a lot of money to fish out the wreck. Now we don’t know when we will be able to pay off our debts.”


Related Posts

Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

One thought on “Salvaged shipwreck claimed by museum leaves divers high and dry”

  1. This happens very often, people see cultural heritage as a profitable business but it’s not. If looting is bad on land, imagine what happens underwater, but it is still cultural heritage. If you accept the unprofessional excavation of a 19th century wreck, what’s going to stop them excavating a 16th century Chinese junk? There are ways to excavate wrecks that can render a lot of information of the vessel, but these people destroy the hull to get to the cargo. The hull is very important, we don’t know how ships were made in the past and they were the most complex “machine” until we started making airplanes! You can’t make profit out of cultural heritage, the side effects are just terrible…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *