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MERSING, Malaysia -- Looters posing as scuba-divers are scouring the waters of Mersing looking for sunken treasure.
They have managed to carry away artifacts from many shipwrecks in the area, University Kebangsaan Malaysia archaeologist Prof Nik Hassan Suhaimi told The New Straits Times.
He said a shipload of artifacts can fetch up to RM15 million ($6.5 million) in auctions.
He said: 'They (the looters) are usually well-equipped with sophisticated tools to help them locate the wrecks and transport the artifacts.
'We cannot stop people from scuba-diving. It is also not wrong for them to go looking for old shipwrecks.
'But it becomes illegal when they find an artifact and smuggle it out.'
According to Prof Nik Hassan, the area is rich with 'lost treasure' dating back to 500BC.
He said treasure hunters were inspired by the stories of shipwrecks and pirates as they went in search of the treasure.
He said: 'Treasure hunters believe the pirates could have stashed away their loot on uninhabited islands, deserted coves, caves and beaches.
'They also believe the shipwrecks contain treasure troves of silver, gold and valuables.'
Should Be Handed Over
Famous shipwrecks found in the Straits of Malacca and the east coast include the Risdam, Nassau, Diana, Flor De La Mar and Nan Hai.
Prof Nik Hassan said that these treasures belong to the host nation and that foreigners should not be allowed to smuggle them out.
He added that those finding such items were required to return them to the government.
'In the interest of the nation, these artifacts should be handed over to the government and the finders will be compensated,' he said.