MALACCA - Mr Fuad Khushairi and his team of 22 from excavation company Smart Partnership International can't be faulted on their determination.
The team, with years of expertise in civil engineering, has lived in ramshackle tents hung from low-hanging branches on Nangka Island since April 2012, surviving on canned sardines, instant noodles and biscuits for days on end.
"We are very close," said Mr Fuad, an oil and gas consultant before this expedition which has cost his company some RM1 million (S$384,000) in salaries, food, transport and leasing of excavation equipment.
"We can see seven metallic and wooden boxes, each about the size of a 36-inch TV set," he told The Sunday Times, about the results of several scans into the ground to detect buried objects.
The boxes were found in several of the 20 chambers they had identified under the island, the smallest the size of a 44-seater bus.
The scans, made just over the last two months, have spurred the men to step up their attempts to break through the thick sandstone - softer than granite but sometimes harder than limestone - that covers much of the island and has prevented ordinary people from uncovering the secrets hidden beneath.
"This is why we knew our hard work would pay off. It's just a little bit more, I think, before we can reveal what's really inside the island," he said.
In fact, he is confident enough that the team has found the entrance to an underground cave that leads to the hidden chambers that his company has invited state government officials, including Malacca Chief Minister Idris Haron, to the island tomorrow to witness its unveiling.
News broke on April 14 that there is a billion-ringgit trove of gold chests, with bullion, a throne and other royal regalia on the island of about 80,000 sq m, or half the size of Singapore's Fort Canning Park. Though small, it is untamed with thick foliage and is off limits to the public.