Beyond the visible #ships

by Eva Sauer

Presented is a series of photographs showing different prospects of the Mediterranean Sea as seen from the shore. The Images resemble postcards sent from a vacation; a metaphor evoking well-being, leisure and contact with nature. Reality presents us with a far more disturbing scenario.

If we examine the Images closely we find a script extending downward from the upper side of the postcards moving seaward, into the image. This script records the coordinates either of sunken ships or of the harbours and piers where those ships were loaded and where they departed from. Beginning in the nineteen eighties and continuing through the millennium many cargo ships vanished into the sea with no visible signs of cause for their sinkage.

Journalists, activists and officials subsequently brought to light an illicit business, of a grand scale, centered around the disposal of toxic waste stored in containers and barrels which were exported to economically weaker countries or sunk into the depths of the sea. In some case the sinking was classified as suspect, but not always. The barrels and containers of toxic waste on these ships were pre-sealed and radioactivity, if present, shielded by cement of marble powder to give assurance their contents would never be examined. High levels of toxic waste and poisonous compounds have subsequently been found present in the waters where many of the ships went missing. Also, fishers died of leukaemia after touching mud attached to their nets, or removing barrels found on the shore.

Officially this activity has been attributed to the N’Drangheta or Calabrian Mafia, but it is understood that these organisations were supported by a bevy of corrupt white collar workers, banks, accountants, politicians, police, harbour officials and dock workers. There were those who spoke out against these criminalities, but at their own peril. Ilaria Alpi, a famous Italian journalist, was obviously killed for trying to expose the fact that war torn countries frequently accepted the illicit disposal of toxic waste in exchange for weapons, and that Italy was involved in this trade.

Returning to our Images. One exception within the photographic series is the photo The Swedish Paradox. This term references a historic case in the nineteen-eighties that exposed Swedish Bofors exported weapons to Iran and Iraq by passing them through Italy. Italy’s laws at the time permitted the sale of arms to countries at war. By using Italy as a pass through zone the state of Sweden was able to present itself as pacifist country.

In closing we suggest that the beauty of nature presented in the images creates a juxtaposition to the ugly truth that lies hidden below the surface. We perceive the beauty of nature as a synonym for health and well-being. We can no longer consider this certainty for our future.

The series is not concluded.

Disclaimer: The coordinates are based on measurements of the waters, statements of the fishermen, researches by officers and journalists and in some cases also location by underwater robots – therefore I cannot guarantee the absolute accuracy of the data. Journalists point out that circa 90 cargo ships have been sunk into the deepest Mediterranean Seas. The Italian state has not done anything yet to solve the problem.