Accepted Paper:

Illegal salvaging and illicit trafficking of underwater artifacts from the Mentawai Islands, West Sumatera  


Nia Naelul Hasanah Ridwan (Research Institute for Coastal Resources and Vulnerability)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper will present the case of illegal salvaging and illicit trafficking of underwater artifacts from The Mentawai Islands, Indonesia and will highlight the necessity of increasing awareness in preserving underwater heritage.

Paper long abstract:

In 2010, a previously unknown shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Mentawai Island, West Sumatera, Indonesia, four meters below the surface. Originally located at a greater depth, the wreck was displaced into shallower water due to the earthquake and tsunami that struck the region in October 2010. The shipwreck and its cargo were first discovered by a Disaster Management Unit team while monitoring coral reef damage. A Ministry-led team was assembled to begin an investigation and verify the discovery, but illicit salvage had already begun.

This paper will discuss the results of the investigation which eventually dismantled the illicit trafficking network that included local fishermen and unethical local officials, most likely with the collusion of international salvage companies. Artifacts illicitly removed include bluish-white ceramics, metal coins, cannons, busts and statues of the Buddha, wooden stamps dating to 1736, jewelry, etc. Most of the looted assemblage has already been sold, and the remainder has been seized and is currently secured by the Ministry of Education and Culture. This paper will also highlight the necessity of increasing awareness in both governmental and public spheres, and offers a number of ways to preserve our underwater heritage in Indonesia’s numerous remote areas.

Panel P20
The antiquities trade in Southeast Asia: new solutions to an old problem