Commanded by Zheng He these ships completed seven cross-Indian Ocean voyages in the early Ming Dynasty. This fleet was built 200 years before Nan'ao-1.
"We seldom see genuine examples of ocean-faring vessels from the Ming Dynasty," says Mao Peiqi, a historian from the Beijing-based Renmin University. "We are very interested in this."
The salvage team is still devising a plan to hoist the vessel from the water.
"It is still too early to tell when and how we are going to lift the ship out of the water," says Cui Yong, executive leader of the ship's underwater recovery mission. "Our pressing task is to recover as much as of cargo before the monsoon season arrives in July."
The excavation was scheduled to begin on September 26, 2009, but was postponed due to the severe weather conditions.
The big four
Nanhai-1 was discovered off the coast of Yangjiang in Guangdong province in 1987. The discovery of this ancient shipwreck from the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) spurred China to develop its first underwater archaeological team. The sunken ship was scooped up, along with its thick blanket of silt, and hauled to the Guangdong Maritime Silk Road Museum in December 2007. A plank-by-plank exploration is now on to recover its 80,000 artifacts.
Huaguangjiao-1 was the first ancient shipwreck to be discovered deep in the South China Sea in 1996. By the time the 800-year-old vessel had been fully excavated in 2007, it had been robbed many times and severely damaged. But its excavation helped archaeologists locate nearly 10 other shipwrecks in the surrounding waters.
Wanjiao-1, a merchant vessel loaded with more than 10,000 pieces of porcelain dating back to the reign of Kangxi (1654-1722) of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), was discovered off the coast of Pingtan of Fujian province in 2005. The shipwreck was fully excavated in 2008.
Nan'ao-1 is the best-preserved ancient shipwreck to be found on the "Marine Silk Road". Discovered accidentally by local fishermen off the coast of Shantou in Guangdong province in May 2007, it was kept under constant vigil before its in-situ excavation was begun on April 9, 2010.