Scientists are considering whether to relocate the remnants of a 14th century shipwreck lying off the central province of Quang Ngai or to preserve it on the seabed as an underwater attraction for tourists.

Scientists recovered more than 4,000 antiques from the wreck during a 40-day excavation last month. The shipwreck is the oldest of its kind to be excavated by Vietnamese archaeologists.

Nguyen Dinh Chien, deputy director of the Vietnam National Museum of History told The Thao&Van Hoa (Sports & Culture) daily, that the ship is the oldest among five underwater wrecks that have been discovered throughout the country so far.

"The wood quality of the ship is fairly good," he said. "The only drawback of the 20m-long and 5.6m-wide ship is a big trace of burning in its middle. The burning trace might be the cause of the wreck."

Scientists are also considering restoring parts of the ship in the event it becomes an underwater diving attraction.

Chien said that Vietnamese experts would be capable of relocating the ship to an onshore facility, but would require significant funding.

"After taking all water and sand from the wreck, a huge buoy can be attached to the ship, then the air will be filled on the buoy and the ship will gradually emerge on the water surface," he explained.

Alternatively, photographs and videos of the whole ship would be used to re-assemble the structure if it was moved gradually in smaller pieces, he said.

Researcher Nguyen Viet from the Centre for Southeast Asian Prehistory has expressed concerns about the possible effect this could have on the ship's structure.

"The wood would begin to soften and dissolve as it has been underwater for 700 years," he said.

Viet said that Vietnam is short of experts who specialise in the preservation and restoration of submerged shipwrecks.

In spite of this alleged lack of expertise, local scientists are considering the possibility of submerging the ship's materials in a fresh water tank on land for up to 200 days, in an effort to preserve the wood. The wood would then be treated in a chemical solution for 500 days before being dried and hardened for restoration.

It is estimated this approach could take up to three years to completely restore the original structure.

Meanwhile, the centre has officially confirmed it will assist the provincial museum to relocate the ship on land and begin the preservation.

Under this plan, the centre would provide the expertise and funding for required for preservation. However, local authorities are still debating the decision. According to Chien, provincial authorities were weighing up the benefits of leaving the shipwreck and organising diving tours, he said.

"The ship is 3-4m under water and just 100m from the bank, which is convenient for visiting," he said.

Chien confirmed that researchers are also excited about the possibility of further excavating such a rare and sizable antiquity. "However, the biggest question is how to preserve the old ship and how much it requires," he said.

"At present, when we cannot figure out our capability as well as invested expense, we should be very careful to avoid harming the antique," he said.

The wreck has been covered with a huge steel web and submerged in sand since the removal of artifacts

The site has also been marked for building Dung Quat 2 Port.-VNA