Battling shipwreck looters

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Monday, September 30, 2013

Photo:  The Paracel Islands – a locus for shipwrecks and looters Photo: Wiki/Teofilo

So many looters are looting shipwrecks in the South China Sea that irreparable damage is being done to more than 100 wreck sites in the Paracel Islands.

That is according to China’s news agency, Xinhua, which says that treasure hunters are no longer content with stealing small artefacts from the wrecks but now want anchors and cannons.

The problem has become so bad that the provincial authorities have begun patrols in the islands, but they say they are losing the battle because of the sheer size of the area which makes it impossible to police.

The Paracel Islands, known as Xisha in China, suffer disputed ownership by China, Vietnam and Taiwan. Since a short war with South Vietnam in 1974, they have been administered by China, which wants to open them up to tourism.

For centuries the islands were avoided because of the multitude of shipwrecks that surround them mostly caused by violent tropical storms and they have never been inhabited. But as far back as the eighteenth century, Vietnam’s Annamite Empire sponsored expeditions to recover goods from the shipwrecks in the Islands.