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Indonesia to Auction 10th-Century Sunken Treasure After Embarrassing Legal Row

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JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia plans to soon auction thousands of ancient ceramics, gold coins and glassware from a 10th-century shipwreck after ending a dispute with police who had seized the booty and arrested foreign salvage divers, a newspaper reported Thursday.

In what turned out to be an embarrassing incident, the national police acknowledged that the salvaging operation, led by a German and a French national about 100 kilometres off the northern coast of West Java, was legal and had clearance from the Jakarta government, The Jakarta Post reported.

The auction of 76,000 restorable items out of more than 490,000 recovered pieces could net as much as 40 million dollars with the Jakarta government and two Indonesian and Belgian firms that financed the operation splitting the profits.

Police had raided a storage warehouse containing the recovered the artifacts in January, impounded the ship used in the salvage operation, and arrested Frenchmen Jean-Paul Blancan and Fred Dobberphul.

At the time, police officials claimed the salvage operation had not been authorized but later conceded that the group had obtained a proper permit from the National Committee on Sunken Treasure before the operation began in 2004.

In recent decades, foreign salvage teams have plundered some of the countless sunken ships around the Indonesian archipelago and left without the government even knowing about their operations until the items were later auctioned abroad.

Aji Sularso, the minister for maritime affairs and fisheries, was quoted as saying a presidential decree on underwater salvaging operations would be amended to prevent a similar mistake.

'We have learned from this experience,' he said. 'The new decree will include police in the salvaging process and establish a permanent body that will be authorized to handle requirements related to the salvaging process.'

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