Cultural relics on shipwrecks under the South China Sea have become threatened by rampant illegal wrecking in recent years, said a senior heritage conservation official here Friday.
Valuable relics found on ancient shipwrecks have been popular on the black market, which has led to more illegal wrecking operations, said Shan Jixiang, head of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), at a meeting held with the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) on how to protect underwater cultural relics.
The trend for illegal wrecking in the South China Sea started in the 1970s, when mostly foreign commercial vessels were the culprits.
In recent years, authorities have found organized illegal wrecking groups as well as individual fishermen and foreign ships involved in the practice, Shan said.
In addition, the exploitation of sand and the reclaiming of land along the coast has also endangered the safety of heritage items under the water, he said.
The SACH has been surveying the whereabouts of underwater cultural relics off the Chinese coast and plans to launch regular patrols in these areas, he said.
The administration would also lobby for amendments to relevant laws so as to tighten the penalties for offenders, he added.
Marine supervision departments will also tighten their patrols, improve the facilities and share information with the SACH, said Liu Cigui, head of the SOA.
The meeting is the first one held between the two administrations on joint actions.
A working protocol on SACH-SOA joint actions to protect underwater heritages was adopted at the meeting.