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Shipwreck was not Italian mafia waste vessel: official

File image: nuclear waste.
by Staff Writers
Rome (AFP) Oct 30, 2009
A ship thought to have been sunk by Italy's southern 'Ndrangheta mafia to dispose of radioactive waste has been found to contain no dangerous substances, authorities said Friday.

"The shipwreck we found is that of the 'Catania' and has nothing to do with the statements of (mafia) turncoat Francesco Fonti," prosecutor Vincenzo Lombardo told the ANSA news agency.

"You can read clearly on the side of the ship the inscription 'Catania'," he said.

Fonti had made a statement to police prompting the search for the vessel, which was found on September 12 off of Calabria, the stronghold of the 'Ndrangheta, Italy's most powerful and violent organised crime syndicate.

Fonti claimed that the 'Ndrangheta sank a freighter loaded with 120 barrels of radioactive waste in 1992.

He said the name of the vessel was Cunsky.

"The results of the investigation leave no room for doubt," Lombardo said, adding that the Catania was sunk in 1917 by a German submarine.

No radioactive contamination was found within a seven-kilometre (four-mile) radius.

What were initially thought to be barrels of toxic waste turned out to be cylindrical ventilation ducts.

"The matter of the shipwreck is therefore closed, but that of pollution in Calabria remains open," said national anti-mafia prosecutor Piero Grasso.

The same ship used by the environment ministry to locate the Catania may be deployed in the search for another shipwreck thought to contain toxic waste off the coast of Basilicata, also in southern Italy.

Fonti told prosecutors that the Cunsky was among 32 ships sunk by the mafia in the Mediterranean with toxic substances on board such as Thorium 234, plutonium and ammonium sulfate.

The head of the environmental group World Wide Fund for Nature in Italy, Fulco Pratesi, said "official evidence has existed since the mid-1990s ... of (significant) illicit international trafficking in dangerous and radioactive waste."

Speaking to ANSA, he added: "Since at least 2004, it has clearly emerged that these criminal activities have been tolerated, even encouraged, by state bodies."

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