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Now being overshadowed by the deaths of 6 Italian soldiers in the growingly unpopular war in Afghanistan, another deadly and sinister Tragedy is brewing. In the beckoning blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea that surround the Italian Peninsula and its islands, and which laps at the coasts of 22 countries in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, a hidden legacy of the Sea being used as a disposal site for radioactive and other toxic wastes for over 20 years is beginning to come to light. What some inside the halls of government are calling an international catastrophe, runs the risk of being swept under the table once again by an Italian Government that has been colluding and embroiled in this ecological and public health disaster from its beginnings.
Dozens of ships, reportedly carrying cargos of what could be thousands of barrels of radioactive and toxic wastes have been intentionally sunk off the shores of Italy, Spain, Greece and as far away as Africa and Asia, by the International Ecomafia led by Calabria’s ‘Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate. This has taken place for over twenty years and insiders in the Italian government and secret service have been involved in covering it up. The first of these ships to be found, thought to be called the Cunsky, has been photographed by a robot off the coast of Cetraro, a medium sized town on the Tyrrheinan coast of Calabria. Cancerous tumors and thyroid problems are highly prevalent here and a growing epidemic all along the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. Certraro is a town known for its port by tourists all over the world. Fish caught by the hundreds of fishemen that make their livelihoods there are eaten throughout Italy and sold on the International market.
The setting for this story is putting the spotlight on the south of Italy and the regions of Calabria in the toe of the boot, Basilicata above Calabria, Puglia in the heel, but also Greece and Spain with repercussions for the entire Mediterranean basin. The facts of this unfolding disaster have been documented by Greenpeace and Italy’s leading environmental organization Legambiente dating back to the late 90’s. Greenpeace has worked to trace the trail of large Cargo Ships that have disappeared from international circulation. Between 32 and 41 such ships are thought to have been sunk in international waters between Italy, Greece and Spain, but mostly along the Italian coastlines. Then, in 2005, a mafia “pentito” (one who repents) named Franceso Fonti testified of his involvement in the sinking of three specific ships called the Cunsky, off Cetraro, the Yvonne A off the coast of Maratea in Basilicata, and the Voriais Sporadais, said to be off the coast of Metaponto in Basilicata on the Ionian Sea. All are international tourist destinations with large fishing industries.
Last week a robot was sent down into the depths 11 kilometers off the coast of Cetraro. There, the robot shot photos of the ship thought to be the Cunsky, confirming the story of the ‘Ndrangheta “pentito” and striking a chord of alarm throughout Italy and the world. In the photos drums like those used to transport and store radioactive and toxic wastes can be distinguished.
Reports of up to 41 boats have now surfaced in the international media. It is hoped that many of the barrels are still intact, but no one knows for sure and it is still unclear what they contain. Traces of Mercury and Cesnium 137 have recently been found near the town of Amantea in Calabria further south of Cetraro by about 50 kilometers. Cesnium 137 is a radioactive byproduct of fission reactions that is highly soluble in water and highly toxic, with a half-life of 30 years. This contamination is believed to have come from another ship called the Jolly Rosso that beached along the Calabrian shore in 1990. The cargo of the Jolly Rosso was illegally dumped near Amantea on a hill along the Oliva River. Amantea is a hotspot for tumors and ground temperature around the contaminated area is said to be six degrees warmer than normal. The population is demanding the truth and government action.
International cooperation is needed in order to find and remove the sunken ships from the seabed. This will have to be an enormous and unprecedented undertaking needing close monitoring by international organizations, the European Union and the United Nations. For now Japan has offered its assistance as a large sector of their tuna fishing is done in the Mediterranean between the coast of Spain and Sardinia. A very strong concern here is that past and current government ties to the International Ecomafia may hinder efforts to fully investigate the scope of this calamity or to swiftly initiate attempts to contain the damage already caused. According to the “pentito” Fonti, he was in contact with agents from the Italian secret service, SISMI, and government officials in 1992 when he was involved in the sinking of these ships.
Author and Italian parliament member Leoluca Orlando, stopping short of blaming the government outright or any specific government officials, said that people in the “political system” aided the criminal network.
“Can you imagine that it is possible to happen without persons inside the system, inside the political system, inside the bureaucracy, inside the state, not being connected with these criminals?” he said. “I am sure that inside the official system there are friends, there are persons who have protected this form of criminality.”
Francesco Neri, an official working with the Calabian anti-mafia directorate, said that it is unclear who wanted to dispose of these wastes, but that this would be part of their investigation. The pentito Fonti stated that wastes that he dealt with came from Norway, France, Germany and the United States.
Ilaria Alpi was a Journalist who was following the trail of arms and toxic garbage trafficking from Italy to Somalia. She worked for Italian public television station Rai. In 1994 she and her camera man Miran Hrovatin were gunned down and killed in Mogadishu under mysterious circumstances. Many here believe, including the Mafia pentito Fonti, that she was killed because she learned too much about the collusion between the Mafia and Italian military.
I have lived in Calabria for almost two years with my wife and beautiful 14 month baby Gaia Valmaree, who was named in honor of both our mother Earth and my own mother. Upon our return from a visit to the toxic cities of Toledo and Detroit, we were alarmed and shocked to learn that the Tyrrhenian sea, which Gaia has been bathing in since her birth, has been intentionally poisoned with radioactive and other highly toxic wastes for over twenty years. How shocked and dismayed we were to discover that government officials have known about it all along. And how enraged we are that a journalist has been killed, possibly for trying to reveal the truth about the disposal of waste by the international Ecomafia and their colluding government and corporate interests.
MICHAEL LEONARDI currently lives in Calabria. He teaches English at the University of Calabria in Cosenza and at the Vocational Highschool in Maratea for training hotel and restaurant workers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org