Future visitors to southern Italy could soon find themselves adding underwater explorations to their travel plans. The recent discovery of about 40 shipwrecks off the coast of the island of Lampedusa will hopefully give rise to an exciting new opportunity for underwater tourism.
The shipwrecks were found between 20 and 100 miles off the coast of Lampedusa, an island lying between Sicily and Tunisia. The sunken ships date from World War II and were sunk as targets of British attacks. Divers have found an extraordinary wealth of items on merchant ships, including war supplies such as cannons and bombs, as well as vintage cars such as trucks and tanks. Local media reports that finds like these would fetch hundreds of thousands of euros from collectors.
Divers also managed to salvage a bronze bell from a ship that was discovered at a depth of 76 meters. The ship in question was Egadi’s cargo ship, which ferried mail and passengers around small islands off the west coast of Sicily. The British Air Force torpedoed Egadi on 30 August 1941 about 50 km northeast of Lampedusa. Its sinking caused 44 deaths, while 65 survivors escaped on lifeboats.
The team of scientists who made the discovery of the wrecks had been working on the project for 15 years. To find the ships, the team spoke to local fishermen who noticed large fish collections that were attracted to the coral reef-like habitat created by sunken vessels.
The idea now is to develop a tourist attraction out of the wrecks. Researcher Mario Arena called the sunken ships “submerged cultural assets” that have the potential to create a successful diving tourism like Malta or Croatia. The first step is to recover the fishing nets that were entangled in the wreck, a project that is underway.
But there is another problem before the wrecks can become a tourist attraction underwater. Arena explained to local media that the sunken ships have an “environmental impact” due to thousands of tons of explosives on board that release chemical agents. The team is collaborating 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, oil and fuel.