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Italy Fishermen Still Fear Bombs

June 16, 1999

ANCONA, Italy (AP) _ With a boat named Lusitania and a life spent at sea, Vincenzo Gasparroni has tempted fate enough. He doesn’t want to worry about netting NATO bombs instead of anchovies.

Since an explosion last month wounded a fishing crew in the waters off Venice, 150 miles north of this Adriatic port, seafarers like Gasparroni have been studying charts pinpointing where NATO pilots dumped bombs on runs back from Yugoslavia.

Other fishermen don’t set sail at all, afraid of snagging a pilot’s payload.

In early June, a week before the last airstrikes, Italy’s defense minister reported that 161 bombs, including seven cluster bombs, had been dropped into the Adriatic because of mechanical problems or fuel shortages. Italian investigators said the bomb that wounded the fishermen apparently was a cluster bomb.

Fourteen NATO minesweepers are in the Adriatic to aid Italian ships searching for mines in a mission expected to take weeks.

Meanwhile, those who make their living from the sea are nervous.

``Our families tell us, `Don’t go out to sea,′ but if you have family, you must go,″ Gasparroni said as he shoveled shaved ice on silvery anchovies to keep them from rotting under a strong sun.

Summer means lots of tourists and Italians dining out, and fish is in demand, bringing high prices at market.

``There are payments to make and seven families here,″ Gasparroni said. He pointed to his crew aboard the Lusitania, a peeling, wooden boat named after the British liner torpedoed by a German submarine in 1915, and its companion with a lighthearted name, Fantastico.

While Ancona-based fleets have set out nightly, those near Venice haven’t dropped their nets since the explosion sent three fishermen to the hospital.

Gimmi Zennaro, 38, recalled that something looking ``like a bottle of Pepsi″ came up in a net with scallops. The device blew up, wounding him in the hand, leg and abdomen.

``If they had warned us, we would have been more careful,″ said Zennaro, recovering in his home near Venice. ``NATO probably didn’t want to create panic among fishermen and tourists.″

The lack of warning angered Italians, whose bases were the backbone of NATO’s bombing campaign.

``The authorities didn’t even consider that 17,000 fishermen go out in the Adriatic every day,″ said Zennaro. ``It would have been impossible not to scoop up a bomb.″

Most of the bombs hit designated dumping areas in the Adriatic’s international waters, but some fell out of the zones, according to officials.

Marine authorities brush off fishermen’s concerns that currents could move the bombs. They contend there are no strong currents in the north Adriatic. In the south, where currents do run, they say the sea bottom is so deep it is unlikely that fishing nets would scoop up missiles.

Most Italian fishing boats are authorized to work only as far as 20 miles out, far from the beginning of the bomb zones.

``For sure, it’s not a minefield out there,″ said Eduardo Orrera, deputy commander of Ancona’s port.

Some fishermen who refused to go out after the explosion have asked banks for loans to tide them over until the government pays $55 for each day they didn’t work before the minesweepers went into action.

The compensation agreement followed protests from the Venetian lagoon to the premier’s office in Rome. Fishmongers also staged a one-day strike.

In April, when a U.S. F-15 dropped six bombs over Lake Garda, a resort area in northern Italy, authorities played down the danger to boaters or bathers. But two months later, a southern stretch of the lake was declared dangerous and closed to fishing and boating.

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