Controversial sunken treasure auction attracts no bidders

By Dina Indrasafitri - The Jakarta Post

The auction of centuries-old artifacts recently discovered on the bottom of Indonesia’s ocean floor opened Wednesday with the attendance of government officials, including two ministers and a pack of journalists — and not a single bidder.

The seats saved for bidders were left empty, forcing the organizer of the auction to call it a day only minutes after the gavel was banged.

“There was an auction, but since there were no bidders, it was instantly closed,” said Sudirman Saad, the secretary-general for the recovery and usage of precious goods in sunken ships.

According to him, the offer to join the auction had been open until 12 a.m., or two hours before the auction, but no registrations had been made. Thus, he said, the auction was recorded as “being conducted, but without any bidders”.

More than 271,000 historical objects discovered in Cirebon waters in West Java were up for auction.

The artifacts were excavated from the ruins of a ship in 2005. The value of the retrieved objects was estimated at US$80 million.

The artifacts included a golden sword with Arabic inscriptions, a large vase from the 10th century Liao dynasty, rock crystals and a 32-centimeter bronze mirror.

Interested bidders were obliged to deposit 20 percent ($16 million) of the value of the auctioned goods.

Maritime and Fisheries Minister Fadel Muhammad, who is also the acting chairman of the National Committee for the Recovery and Usage of Precious Goods in Sunken Ships, said it might take weeks or months before the committee could decide what they would do next.

“We will have a meeting with committee members and then decide what to do. Of course we will also consult with the President,” he said after the auction closed.

The auction has drawn criticism from academics and history buffs as well as the royal family of the Cirebon Sultanate.


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