Indonesia criticized for murky rules on sunken treasures


By Putri Prameshwari - The Jakarta Post

Given the country’s thousands of sprawling islands, key shipping lanes and bounty of shipwrecks, the government should immediately draft legislation on the recovery and management of sunken treasures, stakeholders said.

Last week’s lack of bidders at an auction of 10th-century ceramics and jewelry recovered from the depths was clear proof that the government had a long way to go toward managing such items, said speakers at a discussion organized by the Indonesian Heritage Trust (BPPI) in Jakarta on Tuesday.

Ratu Raja Arimbi Nurtina, a spokeswoman for the Cirebon royal family at the Kanoman Palace, said the recovered items had been taken from the waters off Cirebon, West Java, without the involvement of local residents.

“I regret the decision to take these treasures and put them under the hammer,” she said. “Even though they were, strictly speaking, not ours, it would have been better to consult with us on the matter.”

The treasures, Arimbi said, could have been used to build a picture of the region’s vibrant trading history.

“The palace opposes any attempt by the government to auction off the treasure before it is exhibited to the people of Cirebon,” she said, adding that Kanoman Palace needed a say in any decision made by the government or private contractors salvaging sunken treasure in the area.

Mustaqim Asteja, from the Cirebon-based Kendi Pertula Heritage Society, said a thorough study of the treasure could shed light on the city’s past. “History is a work in progress,” he said. “You can’t categorically rule out these items being related to Cirebon or its development.”

The Cirebon shipwreck was located 130 kilometers off the north coast of West Java. Under the regional autonomy law, a district’s jurisdiction stretches up to six kilometers offshore, while a province’s jurisdiction extends from six to 20 km. The central government is responsible for anything beyond that.

Nunus Supardi, the former director for archeology and ancient history at the Kendi Pertula Heritage Society, said government regulations on recovered treasures remained unclear. “No one understands how it works,” he said.

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