An Ecological Bomb in the Mediterranean

While the global and Italian national media focuses on allegations of Berlusconi’s latest sexual exploits including reports of hedonistic orgies with teenage prostitutes at his luxurious villas, the much more devastating story of the intentional sinking of ships laden with radioactive and toxic materials into the Mediterranean Sea has quietly developed some new twists and turns in another of Italy’s notorious and grand cover-ups. Surely Berlusconi’s sexcapades make Bill Clinton’s impeachable blow job pale in comparison, but the the tabloid headlines could be replaced by the indignation of the Italian Media at least, with the intentional contamination of the beloved blue waters of the Mediterranean and the dismantling of the Italy’s social democracy rather than dedicating the entirety of their attention to prostitutes being paid to entertain one of our most sick and twisted world leaders.

We pick up this story in June of 2010 with the revelations that there is indeed what Italian state prosecutor Bruno Giordano called an “ecological bomb” in the valley of the Oliva river that flows down the mountains and past the towns of Aiello Calabro and Amantea on its way to the Tyrrhenian Sea. This is where it is believed that the cargo of the Jolly Rosso was intentionally dumped and buried. State agencies found the valley to be contaminated with thousands of cubic meters of industrial mud laced with very high levels of cobalt, nickel, mercury, lead, and other heavy metals. They found the presence of cesium 137, and they found more contaminated locations than previously anticipated, leading investigators to believe that not only was the cargo of the Jolly Rosso dumped here but that the area was then used as an illegal dumping grounds for years. There are no industries in this area that produce these materials so it is clear that they were produced and shipped in from other places. A formal request has been made to the minister of the environment Stefania Prestigiacomo to declare this zone an environmental disaster area and to begin cleaning it up. More than six months later there has been NO response.

State secrets still cloak the investigation into the case of what the Italian’s call the Navi dei Veleni Ships of Poison. State secrets still mask the murders of key investigators into the network of international business men, the Italian military, SISMI (the Italian secret service), NATO and state governments as they worked together to create and hide a network of waste and arms trafficking traversing the high Seas from the major Italian port of La Spezia to Alessandria, Egypt, Beruit, Lebanon and onward to Africa and Mogadishu in Somalia. Key investigators into the story of the Ships of Poison, Naval Captain Natale de Grazia, journalist Ilaria Alpi and cameraman Miran Hrovatin lost their lives for what many believe was their discovering of key truths that could expose an international network involving the Italian government that traded military weapons for the disposal of hazardous industrial wastes. Alpi and Hrovatin were gunned down in Mogadishu on the 20th of March 1994 by a Somali commando unit. Captain Natale de Grazia died of sudden cardiac arrest on the 13th of December 1995 only days before he was to deliver his report on his investigation into the Ships of Poison.

Now fast forward to 2011 and several recent developments that should be grabbing headlines. Two Italian journalists, Andrea Palladino, journalist for the communist daily il Manifesto and Vincenzo Mul?, journalist for Terra (Earth) News, have reported on a secret document that has come to the surface in the Parliamentary Commission on the Cycle of Garbage in Italy. This document dated December 11th 1995 describes financing by the Italian government under Lamberto Dini to the Italian Secret Service for the management of trafficking in arms and nuclear waste. While parts of this document have been acknowledged by the parliamentary commission, it still remains state secret. This document became state secret in 1995 and state secrets in Italy are supposed to be bound by a statute of 15 years that should have been up in 2010, however, this document still remains a secret.

Just this week, in an unexpected move from the Parliamentary Commission on the Cycle of Garbage in Italy, the investigation into the murder of journalist Ilaria Alpi and her cameraman Miran Hrovatin was reopened after being closed since 2006. It is believed that Italians paid the Somalis with weapons in exchange for using their sea and land as dumping grounds for toxic and radioactive wastes and that Alpi and Hrovatin had discovered too much. They were gunned down just days after Alpi had interviewed the Sultan of Bosaso, her notes from this interview were never found. Many believe that Alpi was killed because of what she had discovered about the ties between the Italian military and corrupt elements of the Somali leadership. This was all taking place during the time of Blackhawk down and the U.S. led occupation. According to the mafia turncoat Francesco Fonti, they had seen an exchange involving the Italian military and were assassinated for this reason. Their case was reopened because of a note about their deaths that was found among the belongings of Italian businessman Giorgio Comerio by Captain Natale de Grazia’s investigation.

This shady Italian businessman named Giorgio Comerio plays heavily into the reopening of this investigation. Comerio had come up with an idea for disposing of hazardous and radioactive wastes by torpedoing these wastes into the Sea floors. He was notorious for the trafficking of waste and part of a network intent on collecting insurance for old ships that were in need of disposal. His name has been associated with the purchase of the Jolly Rosso, the ship that beached on the shores of Amantea from the Messina shipping company. Old ships it seems are difficult and expensive to dispose of so Comerio and some mafia bosses came up with the bright idea of sinking them and collecting on their insurance policies while at the same time disposing of industrial wastes. Comerio has testified that “disposal at Sea was the only viable option for disposing of radioactive wastes at that time, as sending them off in the space shuttle was too dangerous because of the possibility of an explosion in the Earth’s atmosphere.”

In Captain Natale de Grazia’s investigation he found a report about the killing of Alpi and Hrovatin in Comerio’s files. It has been stated that De Grazia also found a copy of Ilaria Alpi’s death certificate at Comerio’s house on Lago di Como, but that this document disappeared from case files that were in the offices of state prosecutor Francesco Neri in Reggio Calabria. Neri says he remembers this document in the files and that De Grazia’s investigation had discovered it a Comerio’s house but that it has mysteriously disappeared.

Natale de Grazia’s investigation was also focused on another Italian businessman linked to the waste trade from La Spezia. De Grazia was focusing on the major port of La Spezia where NATO operates its undersea research center NURC and where arms and waste shipments are a big business. Orazio Duvia was identified by De Grazia as a key figure in the trafficking of both arms and toxic and radioactive wastes. He was the owner and operator of a mega and quite possibly largest industrial hazardous waste dump in Italy, the landfill of Pittelli on one of the hills overlooking the gulf of La Spezia. According to the research of Andrea Palladino, the CIA looked to the corrupt and criminally operated Pittelli landfill as a model for industrial waste disposal. In May of 1995 De Grazia reported to a group of forest rangers that Duvia’s landfill was one of the logistical platforms for the shipping and sinking of wastes. In this presentation that he made under the code name “pinnochio” in order to protect his identity, he described the sinking of a ship called the Rigel said to be full of nuclear waste and sunk in the waters of the Ionian Sea off the coast of Calabria.

Captain Natale de Grazia was said to be in perfect health by his friends and family. He had however voiced concern about his investigation to his brother in law and had indicated that he may have been treading in dangerous waters as his discoveries led him to conclusions that would be highly uncomfortable for the entire Italian and possibly international power structure. His sudden cardiac arrest happened just days before he was to give his report.

All indicators point to a collusion of forces in this horrific saga of the Ships of Poison, a collusion between SISMI (the Italian secret service), the Italian government, big business, NATO and organized crime families from the Calabrian based crime syndicate l’ndrangheta. Many are now hoping that the reopening of the Ilaria Alpi/Miran Hrovatin case will finally bring the truth to light, but this is doubtful. The Parliamentary Commission on Italy’s Garbage Cycle is being led by a good friend and lawyer of Silvio Belusconi, Gaetano Pecorella. Pecorella began his political career as a radical communist but has moved sharply to the right over the years culminating in what is considered to be the legal mind of the Berlusconi phenomenon. Unless he’s being riddled by some kind of catholic guilt for a life of vile hypocrisy, things don’t bode well for a truly transparent investigation. Pecorella has also defended elements of the Neapolitan based mafia the Camorra noted for its traffic of garbage and creation of the continuing garbage crisis in Naples and surrounding areas.

Italy is at a very critical juncture and whether Berlusconi survives yet again or not is only part of the problem. The Italian economy is in turmoil, the public eduction system is being dismantled and the health care system is under attack while being wrought with corruption. Civil unrest over the past several months has led nowhere but to heightened tensions with an increasingly militarized police state. The country is divided and while a growing majority is crying out for change a large minority still supports the despicable leadership of the neo-fascists running the country. Only time will tell if the mass movement of the past months will bear the fruits of change toward a sustainable economy that are sorely needed. America’s military presence in Italy must be challenged and dismantled for any real change to happen and the center-left has traditionally rubber stamped America’s imperial presence on the peninsula.

MICHAEL LEONARDI is currently living in Toledo, Ohio and can be reached at

As the story of the Ships of Poison continues to unfold look to Counterpunch for new updates. People from around the world have thanked Counterpunch for being one of the only international media outlets that has given this story the coverage it deserves.

Previous coverage of the Ships of Poison saga.,, .


Michael Leonardi lives in Italy and can be reached at