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China plans to build its first vessel capable of retrieving archaeological findings from the sea by the end of 2013, a major step to strengthening the underwater search abilities of Chinese archaeologists who currently rely on rented shipping boats.
The 4.8-metre wide and 56-metre long boat, to be powered by an integrated full electric propulsion system, will "basically" meet China's underwater archaeological needs, according to a statement released by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) on Wednesday.
With a displacement of 860 tonnes, the vessel will be used in China's coastal areas and could sail as far as waters off the Xisha Islands, or the Paracel Islands, in the South China Sea, if sea conditions are good, it said.
Archaeologists will be able to use the ship to detect, locate, map, videotape and excavate underwater archaeological findings, according to the SACH.
The vessel is being designed by the 701 research institute of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation and built by the Changhang Dongfeng shipbuilding corporation in Chongqing.
The news will be a boon for Chinese archeologists who have long struggled with the inconvenience of having to ride fishing boats along China's 18,000 km-long coastline in order to uncover the country's massive quantities of underwater relics.
Many speculators and fishermen have joined this hunt for treasures in the South China sea, a busy sea lane which is said to have at least 122 wrecked ships on its bottom.
Many of the wrecked ships date back to the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1276) dynasties, when China's trade with foreign countries was thriving.
Many speculators and local fishermen surveying the area have used crude means to retrieve underwater relics, prompting authorities to take action.
The protection of China's underwater relics faces "severe challenges" from rampant looting of underwater relics, the SACH said in the statement, adding that the country needs to improve its talent tool of archaeologists and related facilities.