By Markus Junianto Sihaloho - Jakarta Globe
The government has launched an investigation into alleged looting by shipwreck salvage diver Michael Hatcher, who has a long history with Indonesia and is believed to be operating on a new discovery.
Aji Sularso, an official with the National Committee for the Salvage and Utilization of Valuable Objects from Sunken Ships (Pannas BMKT), said on Wednesday it had established a joint investigation team comprising related government institutions. “We are investigating the case,” Aji said.
He was responding to complaints by the Consortium for Rescuing National Assets (KPAB), which alleged the government had not responded to its report regarding Hatcher, who may hold both British and Australian passports.
Endro Soebekti Sadjilman, from the KPAB, said he had solid evidence of the alleged looting.
“We’ve heard he’s in Blanakan waters near Pamanukan in Subang [West Java],” he said. “The government must arrest him.”
Daniel Nafis, from the Institute for Strategic Interest and Development (INSIDe), a member of the consortium, claims Hatcher’s illegal salvage missions in Indonesia began with the discovery of the wreck of the Vec De Geldermalsen in East Bintan, Riau Islands, from which he recovered Chinese porcelain that was auctioned for $20 million.
That mission prompted the Indonesian government to establish Pannas BMKT, to monitor all salvage missions.
In 1999, Hatcher raised 365,000 porcelain items from the wreck of the Chinese junk Tek Sing, which ran aground off southern Sumatra in 1822, constituting the biggest find of its type ever.
On that mission, Nafis said, Hatcher worked with local operator PT Pratama Cakra Dirga.
“The government only found out about it from Australian customs officials,” he said. “They said 43 containers of porcelain were ready to be sent to Germany.”