Sicily's phantom shipwreck found after 5 years


An Italian newspaper says it has found the site of a phantom shipwreck , believed to be the graveyard of some 283 illegal immigrants who tried to reach Italy in 1996 and whose fate has been hushed up for years.

Three weeks ago, the identity card of one of the victims was caught in a fisherman's net and the newspaper La Repubblica used an underwater robot to resume the search.

Yesterday, the paper said it had discovered the wreck.

Mr Giovanni Maria Bellu, the journalist who broke the story, said in an interview that the wreck was surrounded by skeletons.

He said many people in Portopalo knew the ship had sunk, but no one had alerted the authorities.

"The first thing we discovered was that many bodies had been found, but the fishermen of Portopalo would throw them back in the water so they would not have to go through any bureaucratic hassle", he said.

"I think it is impossible that local authorities did not know about it. I don't want to accuse anyone...but I know that prosecutors in (nearby) Syracuse have opened an inquiry into possible negligence following our report", he said.

The ship, far too small for the presumed number of passengers, lies in 108 metres of water between Malta and Sicily. Most of the victims are thought to be from Sri Lanka or Pakistan.