It is not difficult to predict that visitors who surfs in this website could wonder: "What is that makes this “Ghost Ship" have something to deal with with a bed and breakfast in Portopalo?" A
question, rather than legitimate. Here the explanation. First, dear visitor, you should know that history - the big one, with a capital H - has often passed by here.
One of the first who has talked about Portopalo - which was once known as "the promontory of Pachino" - was the great Virgil who, in the third book of the Aeneid, wrote: "We razed the Alpine
stones of Pachino". He was referring to the journey of Aeneas fleeing from
. If we jump forward a few centuries, still remaining in the midst of ancient history, we learn that in 58 or 59 BC Paul of Tarsus arrived on our beach.
In brief, the list of visitors of this part of
is very long. Between 400 and 500, we even received the visit of the Vandals and Ostrogoths. Moreover, if we jump really far away, almost to the present day, in 1943 the Americans and the British landed on our shores, to begin the long march in order to liberate
Well, history goes on and on. It never stops. Portopalo, even if it is in the tip of Sicily and is the southernmost town of
,lives its own history like the rest of the world. So, we finally arrived at the "ghost ship".
Dear visitor - and I hope future guest - you certainly know that from the beginning of the 1990’s in Italy and throughout Europe has begun a "wave of migration," as the newspapers call it, that has not stopped yet. Thousands of immigrants, like Aeneas through the Mediterranean sea, are arriving to
from some of the poorest countries in
the world, especially in summertime. And since they come from south and go to the north, they frequently shore in our coasts.
These trips, made often with inadequate boats – so inadequate, in fact, to be called "ships of shame" - end in tragedy. Think, dear visitor that according to studies carried by universities and NGOs, in the last ten years between ten thousand and twenty thousand
people have drowned while trying to reach the coasts of
. A massacre.
The most serious of these wrecks (the most serious that has ever occurred among those in the Mediterranean since the Second World War) took place right here, halfway between the coast and the
island of Malta
, on the night of 25 and 26 December 1996.
Almost three hundred immigrants from India, Pakistan and
died bifore they could reach the Italian coast. But this time, to the tragedy were added a series of extraordinary
events, that immediately gave rise to the legend of the "shipwreck ghost."
Italian newspapers were claiming that name -Ghost- because neither the maritime authorities, nor the political ones, believed the witness of a few survivors. They hypothesized that their stories had been invented, or greatly exaggerated, in order to get
attention, or pity. In fact, there was an objective fact to support that thesis: in the days after the wreck not even one body of the three hundred victims had been recovered. Very strange, since that was indeed a very busy sea traffic area.
The desperate plea of the victims’ families were ingnored by most of the press. Only a few newspapers ("Il Manifesto" in Italy, "Le Monde" in France, "The Observer" in
) covered the inquiry on the case. In 2001 - after nearly five years of almost absolute silence -another extraordinary thing happened. As if destiny wanted to make up for the indifference and cynicism of the men.
A fisherman from Portopalo, Salvo Lupo, one day found in his fishing net -half destroyed by the impact with underwater obstacles- a pile of rags. In the middle of the pile there was a pair of jeans. Once stirred, from the jeans’ pockets dropped a few coins and a plastic card. To the fisherman it seemed a valid identity card, because there was also -well preserved- the holder's photo, a very young boy with dark skin, and it was written
in an unknown language.
Salvo Lupo had a suspicion that the ID belonged to one of the victims of the December 1996’s wreck, and that the obstacle on which his trawl had caught on was nothing but the "ghost ship". At this point, dear visitor, you may ask what made that suspicion
so well-grounded. We already said that the shipwrecks in the Mediterranean sea have been hundreds, but how did Salvo Lupo could think that the document belonged to one of the victims of the 1996 disaster? This is the saddest part of all the story.
Salvo Lupo had this suspicion because he knew, like almost all the fishermen of this area, that in the days following the wreck fishermen had found many corpse, sometimes into their nets, sometimes floating in the middle of the sea. However, they neither denounced nor the findings or the sight of dead bodies for fear of having to stop, their fishing activities because of a police interrogation. A few months earlier, another fisherman had had an experience like that. So everyone decided to not talk. And the corpses were thrown back
into the sea. The casual finding of that card appeared as a message to Salvo Lupo's a sign of fate.
He decided it was time to close this sad story once for all. Firstly, he tried to inform the authorities of the discovery of the document. Unfortunately, he saw that it was not considered significant, so he decided to catch the attention of the press.
In June 2001, Giovanni Maria Bellu, a reporter from the newspaper "La Repubblica", made sure that the owner of the document was a young Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil. His name was Anpalagan Ganeshu, he was seventeen. His name was on the lists of the wreck of December 1996. Once the suspicion was confirmed by the intervention of Salvo Lupo, and the exact location of the wreck suggested, "La Republica" hired a robot submarine that, on the 13th of June 2001, filmed underwater the wreck of the "ghost ship". A huge scandal broke out, the pictures went around the world, the Italian government had been asked the immediate recovery of the victims. Unfortunately, this operation has not been carried yet. This is, in short, the story of the "ghost ship".
If you want to know more, you can find a lot of available books, films, documentaries, even two theater performances. Yeah, but why did we call it a bed and breakfast “Ghost Ship”? Simply because its owner is Salvo Lupo.
His contribution to the resolution of the case has created him a lot of friends but also many enemies. For years, he is no longer a fisherman. This B&B is one of the ways he has taken in order to deal with his family, to start a new life. The name he gave to it is a
way to not forget.