by courtesy of Yuth Phou Thang
Some of the larger specimens of ancient Chinese pottery salvaged from a sunken trading ship earlier this year. According to Yuth Phou Thang, more than 1,000 pieces "of many sizes" have been brought from the deep so far.
More than one 1,000 pieces of Chinese pottery recently retrieved from a centuries-old
shipwreck have been removed from a warehouse owned by CPP Senator and casino owner
Okhna Ly Yong Phat, said Koh Kong Governor Yuth Phou Thang.
According to Phou Thang, the relics salvaged from what experts believe is a 15th-century
Chinese trading ship are now being held in a Koh Kong store supervised by local authorities
and under the oversight of a committee chaired by National Police Commissioner Hok
"In the past we kept them [at Phat's warehouse] because we didn't have a place
of our own," Phou Thang said. "Now we keep them in our warehouse."
The sunken vessel, 32 meters under water and 20 km off the coast of Koh Sdech, Kiri
Sakor district, Koh Kong province, came to the attention of local authorities on
Chhen Chhek, governor of Kiri Sokor and senior official on Koh Sdech, said that before
government intervention the ship had been looted by local fishermen, but has since
been assigned a 24-man naval guard.
Now, provincial authorities along with the National Museum in Phnom Penh are negotiating
with a private group of Russian specialists, as well as the Russian government, to
launch a collaborative project to salvage the ship and the rest of its contents.
National Museum Deputy Director Hab Touch said he believes the Russian government
is interested in joining the project, but a contract is yet to be signed between
Russian and Cambodian authorities.
"I met [Russian government officials] one or two months ago when they started
to talk with the Koh Kong government," he said. "They have divers and experts
in archaeology so we think it would be good, because we have an archaeology department
but we don't have an underwater department, so we need assistance.
"I think that now they are working on an agreement between Russia and Cambodia.
The agreement is not signed; they are still discussing it."
Timur Zevakhin, chief of the consular section of the Russian Embassy in Phnom Penh,
said his office was not yet able to comment on contract discussions.
According to Cambodian Navy Captain In Sokhemara, the senior officer in charge of
security at the shipwreck site, all diving operations have been halted, pending an
exchange of information between the Russian experts and the government.
"Before, the Russians who dove just looked around and took photographs. At the
time they didn't have enough equipment to take the ship out of the sea," Sokhemara
said on May 31. "We were told they would return."
Touch said his chief concern is that the project is carried out with the utmost care
"If we are unprofessional we may destroy things. So we seek international assistance,"
he said. "I don't care where the experts are from, but the most important thing
is that we have qualified people."
The Koh Kong officials also plan to include private Cambodian firms in the project,
and the Russian government may not be the only international partner, he said.
"We are still looking for experts, we may look in China," Touch said. "We
have a long cultural relationship with China, and the shipwreck is Chinese so they
will have knowledge about it."
Neither Touch or Phou Thang could estimate how much money the Chinese artifacts might
Phou Thang said they had only seen artifacts from the upper portion of the ship,
and had not yet investigated the lower levels.
According to Nikolai Doroshenko, a Russian and the owner of Sihanoukville's Snake
House restaurant, the ship is 27 meters long and 8 meters wide. Doroshenko, who says
he has led three separate dive teams to the wreck and showed underwater photos to
Post reporters on April 25, said the hull of the ship is mostly intact.
"This is our first shipwreck," Touch said. "In Western countries they
can make estimates based on pre-existing markets but in Cambodia we don't have that."
Touch said the vast bulk of the artifacts would stay in Koh Kong in a specially built
museum, which would provide a significant boost to the region's economy.
"I think Koh Kong is a good destination for tourists because of the beautiful
scenery and now that we have cultural resources it can be even better."