If Europe's largest undersea volcano were to erupt, which a leading Italian professor says would flood southern Italy, it should not have devastating effects on Malta.

According to Enzo Boschi, the president of Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, the Marsili volcano, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, could erupt at any time.

But seismologist Pauline Galea believes that a wave caused by the eruption should not reach Malta, mainly because the strength of a tsunami would be broken by Sicily.

The 3,000 metre tall volcano, located just 150 kilometres southwest of Naples, is bursting with magma and has fragile walls. If it collapsed it would unleash millions of cubic metres of material capable of generating a powerful wave.

Prof. Boschi told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that an eruption could cause a strong tsunami that would strike the coasts of Campania, Calabria and Sicily.

Dr Galea said it was very difficult to predict the eruption, especially since no seismological activity has been recorded in the area.

Although the volcano has not erupted since the start of recorded history, a research group that had been monitoring it for years reported in 1999 that it was still active.

Scientist Michael Marani, who headed a study of the volcano, had said the Tyrrhenian Sea was still unstable and carried elevated risks that had to be monitored.

When contacted, the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology confirmed that a tsunami would not hit Malta.

Dr Galea said an undersea volcano eruption near Greece could have worse consequences for the island since there would be nothing to break the waves caused by a tsunami.

She pointed out that there were several undersea volcanoes in the Mediterranean and nobody knew when one could erupt.

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