Brunei strikes it rich again

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT of the oil-rich state of Brunei has been secretly engaged in a three-month salvage operation that has yielded a treasure trove of Chinese porcelain, jade and gold from a shipwreck.

The Singapore Straits Times quoted Gunawardena Nalin, chief engineer of the barge Marine Lodge, which was the operation's nerve-centre, as saying 60 to 70 people were involved. A Brunei naval vessel kept away intruders.

The ceramics are believed to be from the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644). Jade was also found. Mr Nalin said some consisted of uncut stones the size of a man's fist. As the operation was coming to an end, gold ingots also came to light but the divers were told to leave them for another team to recover.

The value of the haul is not known, because experts from Brunei and French museums, who were involved in the operation, have refused to comment. But it appears to be an important find. A Singaporean ceramics expert believes the ship was on an export mission from China.

The operation, which took place in the middle of last year but has only just come to light, was undertaken just as Brunei started to feel the chill of the Asian financial crisis and was being forced into unaccustomed economies.