Discovery of “spectacular” wrecks in Italy sparks potential for underwater tourism
Future visitors to southern Italy may soon find themselves adding underwater exploration to their vacation itineraries. The recent discovery of around 40 wrecks off the coast of Lampedusa Island will hopefully provide an exciting new opportunity for underwater tourism.
The wrecks were found between 20 and 100 miles off Lampedusa, an island between Sicily and Tunisia. The submerged ships date from World War II and were sunk as targets of British attacks. Divers have found an extraordinary wealth of artifacts on merchant ships, including war supplies like cannons and bombs as well as vintage vehicles like trucks and tanks. Local media report that such finds would net collectors hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Divers also managed to recover a bronze bell from a ship, discovered at a depth of 76 meters. The ship in question was the cargo ship Egadi which carried mail and passengers around small islands off the west coast of Sicily. British air force torpedoed the Egadi on August 30, 1941, about 50 km northeast of Lampedusa. Its sinking left 44 people dead, while 65 survivors escaped in lifeboats.
The team of researchers who discovered the wrecks had been working on the project for 15 years. To locate the vessels, the team spoke with local fishermen who noticed large congregations of fish attracted to the coral reef-like habitat created by the sunken vessels.
The idea now is to develop a tourist attraction from the wrecks. Researcher Mario Arena called sunken ships “submerged cultural assets” that have the potential to create successful diving tourism like that of Malta or Croatia. The first step is to recover the fishing nets that got tangled in the wreckage, a project currently underway.
But there is another problem before the wrecks can become an underwater tourist attraction. Arena told local media that the sunken ships have an “environmental impact” due to the thousands of tons of explosives on board that release chemical agents. The team is working with a university in Germany to analyze samples and understand the impact on marine life. In addition to explosives, there are also large amounts of lead, petroleum and fuel.