Everyday for 20 years Ha Cong Ao and Hoang Dinh Dang have risked their lives diving to the bottom of the Red River in search of discarded valuable materials.
When they discovered a sunken 19th century ship they thought they’d come up trumps but now they’re not so sure.
On the banks of the Red River in Khoai Chau district, Hung Yen province sits a recently salvaged boat that was built sometime in the 19th century. Now broken in two the boat was once 30m long and 5m wide.
The bronze steam-engine and screw-propeller are intact, however, so there is enough evidence to suggest that this ship was a real beauty in its day.
But the divers, who discovered the boat, are now staring at the shipwreck and wondering if dredging up the past was such a good idea. At first, of course, they thought they’d struck gold.
“People say we hit the jackpot but in fact we are sitting on a land-mine,” says 53-year old Ha Cong Ao. “We emptied our own pockets and borrowed a lot of money to fish out the wreck. Now we don’t know when we will be able to pay off our debts.”
Initially, Ao along with his son Ha Cong Chuom and his friend Hoang Dinh Dang estimated it would take a week and cost VND10m to pull the wreck out and that they could sell wood and iron for VND70m.
In the end it took a whole month. They hired nine divers and two crane boats at a cost of VND124 million. There was an additional VND100m spent on oil.