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Divers plan to retrieve Chinese porcelain worth $43 million

May 30, 2012|By David Colker
  • This porcelain bowl dates from about 1580, during the Ming dynasty in China. An estimated 700,000 pieces, many of which are of blue and white porcelain, lie at the bottom of the ocean off Indonesia.
This porcelain bowl dates from about 1580, during the Ming dynasty in China.… (Bloomberg )

There's $43 million worth of 16th-century Chinese porcelain just waiting to be picked up.

One catch: It's at the bottom of the ocean, about 200 feet down, off the coast of Indonesia.

The treasure trove ended up there when the giant wooden junk that was carrying it sunk, probably when it was on its way to the city that is now Jakarta, according to Bloomberg News.

The wreckage of the Chinese merchant ship -- far larger than European ships of the time -- was discovered in 2008. In an operation two years later, 38,000 items were hauled to the surface.

But about 700,000 pieces -- including bowls, dishes and cups made during the Ming Dynasty rule of Emperor Wanli -- are still down there, according to Nikolaus Graf Sandizell, who heads the archeology company Arqueonautas Worldwide, which is planning a mission to the ship ruins.

His company, based in Portugal, aims to retrieve historical items from endangered maritime wrecks. He said the site off the coast of Indonesia is in peril because its location is known to plunderers.

Many of the pieces are well preserved, Sandizell said, because salt water has acted as a preservative. He estimated that about one-third of the items are intact.

Sandizell said the retrieval mission would cost about $6.3 million. But first, his company has to win permission from the Indonesian government, which owns the site.


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