It is the night of 14th December 1990, and the Jolly Rosso, a merchant vessel belonging to the Ignazio Messina freight group, runs aground in Formiciche, Calabria. The ship is carrying a cargo of nylon, tobacco and powdered drinks, and a crew of fourteen. The cause of the beaching is not clear, it was probably due to a small breach of the hull, the ship lost power, drifted through the night, and ended up on the beach.
Rosso is an old cargo ship, soon to be decommissioned and broken up for scrap. No one is surprised. This type of thing happens all the time. Costa Concordia, Zeebrugge, Exxon Valdez...
The morning after the accident, two men board the ship. People in town say they are secret services. Why are they there? Perhaps they were fond of powdered milk.
More shit happens.
A large hole in the hull of the ship is later identified and photographed by onlookers, but this could not have been the cause of the beaching. It is too high above the water line.
Why does this shit always seem to happen in Calabria?
The demolition and removal of the Rosso is carried out by the Dutch company Smit Tak, which specialises in clean-up operations after nuclear accidents.
That's a lot of shit to be happening to one ship carrying tobacco and nylon.
Some people in town are beginning to wonder what the Rosso was really carrying. They are still wondering.
The Oliva river dribbles into the sea close to Formiciche. It now contains (to quote Scientific American) “a buried concrete block containing mercury, cobalt, selenium and thallium at very high concentrations—and displaying substantial radioactivity indicative of synthetic radionuclides. Authorities also found marble granules mixed in with thousands of cubic meters of earth, which was contaminated with heavy metals and cesium 137, typically a waste product of nuclear reactors. Traces of toxic substances and marble granulate, known to be used to mask radioactivity.”
Needless to say, none of this came from the south of Italy.
The question is: what was it doing on the Rosso and who put it there?
This is an extract from the forthcoming novel When the Poison Stains these Shores, third installment in the Mina Balestra novels. The first two, Servants of Two Masters and The Second State, are available for Kindle from Amazon.