The Ghost Ship of Portopalo

For years, the fishermen of Portopalo, Sicily, got used to fishing body parts out of the sea with their haul of cod. They knew that to tell the authorities risked a lengthy investigation so they simply threw the arms and legs back into the water and said nothing. And when stories started emerging about a ship that had gone down, the authorities didn’t want to know. The accounts of the few survivors were dismissed as ploys for sympathy. It became known as the ‘phantom shipwreck’. Except the shipwreck really happened.

On the 25 December 1996, a tiny boat loaded with over 300 immigrants went down off the coast of Sicily. 283 men, women and children died. It was the Mediterranean’s worst shipping disaster since World War II. Five years later, a journalist from La Republica pieced together the stories and was able to locate the missing ship at the bottom of the sea. But even then, the tragedy received little attention.

How could so many people die unnoticed? What caused the ship to sink? We piece together the last hours of the ghost ship and trace the few survivors and the families of the victims.


  • Year: 2011
  • Duration:
  • Director: GADH CHARBIT
  • Available Versions: FRA
  • Country of production: France

Related Programs


On 18 April 2015, a boat sank off the coast of Libya, killing an estimated 800 migrants. Who were they? We follow the team trying to identify them.

More info


Torn apart by war and politics: from Germany Raf’aa prays to be reunited with her young family, who are trapped in one of Europe’s worst refugee camps

More info

Suspicious Package

What lies behind Europe's Fortress? 'Suspicious Package' examines the migratory security business to understand who benefits politically and economically from the EU's border security system.

More info