Relic protection authorities and border police have been put on the alert for thieves eyeing the sunken Nanhai No 2 ship, following the recent salvage of a similarly treasure-laden ancient vessel on Saturday.
Experts with the Guangdong provincial relic protection authority said the 400-year-old Nanhai No 2, which sank off the South China Coast during the Ming Dynasty period (1368-1644) and was discovered by two fishing boats in May this year, carried nearly 10,000 pieces of porcelain.
The waters where the shipwreck lies is thought to be shallow compared with that of the Nanhai No 1 - lifted on Saturday - and therefore easier for illegal salvaging.
Potential thieves can easily reach the depth of the Nanhai No 2 with diving gear and help themselves to the treasures onboard, border official Zhu Zhixiong said.
Zhu added that a global positioning device costing 20,000 yuan was bought to help keep watch on the area for any suspicious activity.
The border police of Shantou in Guangdong Province have been protecting the sunken vessel against any theft for more than 200 days since its discovery.
The Guangzhou Daily also quoted an official saying that attempts to steal Chinaware on the Nanhai No 2 have been happening from time to time.
The treasures, reportedly able to fetch millions of dollars in auction houses, have attracted many theft attempts.
Zhu said he has even received calls asking him to turn a blind eye to any items stolen from the ship in return for a cut of their sale. He refused the offers.
Experts with the Underwater Archeological Centre at the National Museum of China estimated that there are at least 2,000 ancient ships lying in the South China Sea, which used to be one of the busiest international sea lanes in ancient times.
In the past two decades, treasure hunters from both at home and abroad have been trying to salvage chinaware and other treasures from ancient Chinese boats submerged in the waters.
(China Daily December 25, 2007)