Indonesia to ease auction rules to lure treasure bidders

Luc Heymans - Cirebon Treasure

By Putri Prameshwari - Jakarta Globe

The government is revising its bidding procedures for a cache of salvaged historical artifacts, following last week’s aborted auction that had aimed to raise $80 million but failed to get a single bid, an official at the maritime affairs ministry said on Sunday.

The auction flop has polarized the debate on whether such items are too valuable, historically, to be sold off.

Aji Sularso, director general of supervision at the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, said officials would meet on Monday to discuss alternative procedures for the auction of 271,000 pieces of ceramics and jewelry recovered from a shipwreck off Cirebon, West Java.

“Having learned from the first auction, we’re evaluating the procedures for the next one,” he said.

Wednesday’s auction of 10th-century treasures was called off after five minutes because there were no bidders. The ministry had required a deposit of $16 million for the right to bid, about 20 percent of the minimum amount it sought to raise.

“We’ll probably be more flexible on the deposit,” Aji said.

He added that another problem was that the auction had been announced at short notice, giving potential bidders only a week to register and submit their deposits. Aji said an overhaul of the bidding procedure would be crucial to enabling the ministry to auction off more such items within the country, rather than through auction houses elsewhere. 

Indonesian waters, historically busy shipping lanes, are believed to house numerous wrecks carrying valuable cargo. Aji put the number at more than 480. The Cirebon haul was recovered by Belgian salvager Luc Heymans’ Cosmix Underwater Research and its local partner, PT Paradigma Putra Sejahtera. 

Paradigma CEO Adi Agung Tirtamarta welcomed further discussions with the ministry on loosening up the bidding procedure.

“It’ll be good for Indonesia to get its hands on treasures found in its own waters,” he said, adding that in the past such finds were looted and taken overseas.


Cirebon West Java Jakarta Luc Heymans Cosmix Underwater Research Ltd