Treasures of the deep gain protection (Bangkok Post)

The exploration is part of Unesco’s six-week training on underwater cultural heritage preservation.

The divers are from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

They have been picked for an underwater heritage protection programme organised by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) and the Fine Arts Department’s Underwater Archaeology Division (UAD) which runs from Oct 26 to Dec 6.

Division head Erbprem Vatcharangkul said Thailand has 64 underwater archaeological sites. He said all of them, especially those in shallow water, were under threat from treasure hunters.

Protection of the sites required well-trained staff and cooperation from local people, including fishermen.

Other countries in the Asia-Pacific region face similar problems which prompted Unesco to set up the regional field training centre to promote underwater heritage protection in the region and to exchange conservation information.

The centre plans to hold four training courses. The course in Rayong was the first.

Trainees will be taught by experts from Australia, the Netherlands and Thailand.

“The participants will be trained in underwater archaeology protection from basic to advanced levels, both in theory and practice,” Mr Erbprem said.

On the 15th day of the course, the trainees were assigned to dive to a depth of 18 metres to measure the length, width and height of a wooden shipwreck which was found two nautical miles west of Koh Mannok, off Rayong’s Klaeng district.

“The boat structure and some ancient coins which were found at the site could [reveal] the age of the sunken boat which belonged to the early period of King Rama VI [early last century],” he said.

“This shipwreck is another piece of the jigsaw that will help give a clear picture of history.”

The official called on fishermen to help safeguard the archaeological site by stopping their use of destructive fishing practices in the area.

He said the government should also ratify the 2001 Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage for better protection of the country’s underwater heritage from commercial exploitation.

Nudy Phann, 38, deputy director-general of the General Department of Cultural Heritage, Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts in Cambodia, who took part in the training, said he believed his country had several underwater archaeological sites, but only one shipwreck had been discovered so far.

“No one has yet studied the shipwreck,” he said. “We don’t have expertise, equipment, or sufficient knowledge to explore underwater cultural heritage – that is why I am here to attend the training.

“Underwater cultural heritage is new for my country even though we ratified the convention in 2007.

“I am happy to be here and when I go back to my country I plan to set up a team to start surveying shipwrecks.”

Thai trainee Duangpond Kanya Singhasanee, 29, a graduate student from Silpakorn University’s historical archaeology faculty, said the training was extraordinary because participants were allowed to visit sites which were normally hard to reach.

Ms Duangpond is a diving master and had visited several archaeological sites.

“This training has inspired me to work in the field of underwater archaeology,” she said.