YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Divers attached to safety ropes have plunged into waters south of Myanmar's old capital as part of renewed efforts to retrieve a bronze bell that has been lying for centuries at the confluence of three rivers.
The 270-ton bell, believed to be one of the largest ever cast, was made on the order of King Dhammazedi in 1476 and donated to the revered Shwedagon pagoda. In the early 1600s, it was stolen by Portuguese despot Philip de Brito, but his rickety vessel sank where the Yangon and Bago rivers meet the Pazundaung creek.
Private and foreign groups have for years been trying to retrieve the historic treasure. Believed to be buried deep beneath heavy silt, they have been deterred in part by murky waters and torrential currents.
A salvage team of about 70 people including 10 divers from the country's Myeik archipelago, famous for their ability to dive deep without external breathing equipment, were taking part in the latest mission, said Win Myint, 52, the expedition organizer.
They have made exploratory dives over the last several days, but because of heavy silt and mud on the riverbed have not been able to locate the bell, and were set to dive again on Thursday, Win Myint said.
He said he has always dreamed of salvaging the Dhammazedi Bell and returning it to the Shwedagon pagoda.
As divers wearing goggles and attached to safety ropes jumped into the water, Buddhist monks in a separate boat prayed for their safety, Win Myint said, expressing confidence that the mission would end in success.
Win Myint added the project would last up to 45 days and would cost about $200,000, most of which had come from donations.