Italy finds wreck of toxic waste ship sunk by mafia

ROME Tue Sep 15, 2009 8:57am EDT

ROME (Reuters) - Italian authorities have found the wreck of a ship sunk by the mafia with 180 barrels of toxic waste on board, one of more than 30 such vessels believed to lie off Italy's southern coast, officials said on Tuesday.

Following a lead from a mafia turncoat, investigators used a remote-controlled submersible to film the 110-meter (360-feet) long vessel on Saturday, around 28 km (18 miles) from the coast of the southwestern Italian region of Calabria.

The ship, which officials say may even contain radioactive elements, lay in 500 meters (yards) of water in the Tyrrhenian sea. TV images showed at least one barrel had fallen from its damaged hull and lay empty on the seabed.

"There could be problems of toxins and heavy metals ... this is an issue for the whole international community," said Silvestro Greco, head of Calabria's environment agency.

The ship's location was revealed by Francesco Fonti, an ex-member of Calabria's feared 'Ndrangheta crime group, who confessed to using explosives to sink this vessel and two others.

Greco said investigators believed there were 32 ships carrying toxic waste sunk by the mafia since the introduction of tighter environmental legislation in the 1980s made illegal waste disposal a lucrative business for crime groups.

"The Mediterranean is 0.7 percent of the world's seas. If in this tiny portion there are more than 30 (toxic waste) shipwrecks, imagine what there could be elsewhere," he said.

(Reporting by Antonio Denti and Daniel Flynn; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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