The Treasure Hunters
Were it not for the two Japanese art dealers trying to smuggle suitcases filled with ancient ceramics out of Vietnam, the government would have been none the wiser of the shipwreck found off of Hoi An.
Fishermen supplementing their incomes had been selling the ceramics from their treasure hunting dives for months. According to locals, some shipwrecks are looted for years before the larger community is alerted. However, with more and more treasure hunters, better equipment and internet speed information, plus thousands of ancient shipwrecks still lying in our ocean and sea beds drawing people, secrets are harder to keep these days.
This is good, but mostly it's bad.
Recovering material from the sea is costly, so as with the case of the Hoi An Wreck which was at the depth of 70m making recreational diving (12m) impossible, other more destructive means were used such as dragging steel rakes over the mounds to dislodge the ceramics so that they would float.
It's important therefore to secure a site before heavy looting and damage begins. For instance, in the case of the Hoi An Wreck, it proved Vietnam was not only a key trading port before the Europeans came but that it was a producer of high grade ceramics rivalling Ming China since the 1400's.
Butterfield's Asian Art Expert, Henry Kleinhenz, noted the originality of the parrot shaped cups, and the egg-shaped ewer (pitcher) with a birds head spout. British Marine Archaeologist Mensun Bound concurred, "The range was really quite amazing on this ship. You could see the mind of the merchant. You have on one hand, well, not great works of art, and on the other hand these grand magisterial pieces."
Read more about the Treasure Hunters from BBC.
Trivia: Although it is not surprising that the longest (200 years) naval power of the world (Great Britain) would have the most shipwrecks along its coasts. It is still mind boggling to think that there were as many as 250,000 sunk along them. As a consequence, wreck diving is a popular sport for the British, both for what they find under the sea and then the connecting stories they find on land.