MELAKA: With thousands of shipwrecks off the nation’s coast, emphasis will be given to save and better protect the country’s heritage and treasures through underwater excavation.
Tourism and Culture Ministry secretary-general Datuk Ab Ghaffar A. Tambi said this following the discovery of a historical relic by a fisherman off the coast of Terengganu recently.
“We are now taking more proactive steps in underwater excavation because that is also covered under the National Heritage Act 2005.
“We are afraid that these artefacts would be retrieved by individuals illegally,” he told a press conference at the launch of the Southern Zone National Heritage Department office in Ayer Keroh Tuesday.
Also present were National Heritage Department, Deputy Commissioner of Heritage Mesran Mohd Yusop; Tourism, River and Coastal Development committee deputy chairman Datuk Ghazale Muhamad; Melaka Youth and Heritage Committee deputy chairman Datuk Norpipah Abdol; and Melaka Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia director Jeffri Munir.
He cited Pulau Bidong, off the coast of Terengganu, which has been proposed as a ‘protected zone’ in a bid to prevent marine looting after relics were discovered.
Earlier in February, the National Heritage Department had expressed its intention to gazette Pulau Bidong in Terengganu to facilitate research on a shipwreck found on the seabed in 2012.
“National treasures belong to the Federal government and should not be taken illegally by individuals. This is why we are now working with the relevant agencies to retrieve them.
“We have signed a memorandum of understanding with Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) to grant them permission to recover these artefacts from the waters off Terengganu as part of the underwater heritage excavation,” he said, adding that he believed that there were many more shipwrecks along the nation’s coast including the Straits of Malacca.
The shipwreck in Terengganu is believed to date as far back as the 14th century, and was discovered after a fisherman accidentally ‘fished’ out a piece of ceramic pottery in March 2012.
“The fisherman alerted the Terengganu State Museum who then informed us. We dispatched a team of professional divers and ordered the Marine Department to cordon off a 40 sq metre area to prevent any illegal looting before a search was conducted.
“We also used a sonar device to try and detect the wreck.
“We believe this is one of the thousands of wrecks here as the route was once a maritime pathway for vessels from the Gulf of Thailand to the east coast of Malaysia,” he said.
“We also believe that the vessel is of Thai origins based on the artefacts we found, which we believed are from the Kingdom of Sukhothai," he said.
He also called on those who come across historical relics, be it on land or underwater, to alert the respective state authorities so that excavation efforts and researches can be carried out on these treasures from the past as they are part of the country’s history.
Shipwrecks, underwater excavation, heritage, treasure, National Heritage Act 2005, Terengganu, Pulau Bidong, Tourism and Culture Ministry