© UnknownThe statue was securely embedded in concrete 95ft beneath the surface of the sea
Italian police are trying to solve the mysterious disappearance of a 3.5 ton statue of a saint which has stood on the seabed off the coast of Calabria since 2007.

Authorities are baffled as to who - or what - could have removed the bronze statue of St Francis of Paola, which stands 7.2ft high and was securely embedded in concrete 95ft beneath the surface of the sea.

The hooded figure, with one arm raised in supplication, is one of several saintly statues which dot the Italian coastline and are meant to protect fishermen and scuba divers.

Police and the Coast Guard are investigating a few theories, including the possibility that the statue was mistakenly snagged by the net of a large fishing boat.

If the crew of the boat were fishing in the area illegally, that would explain why the incident has not been reported.

Police are also investigating reports from the nearby town of Paola that a large statue-like object was seen on the back of a van in the days after its disappearance on Dec 30 or 31, suggesting it may have been stolen to order.

The strange disappearance of the statue has had one unexpected upside. A group of local divers who went to investigate the site chanced upon the wreck of a 49ft-long ship, which is thought to be hundreds of years old.

St Francis was a mendicant friar who was born in the town of Paola, after which he is named, in 1416.

He spent six years of his life living in a sea cave on the nearby coast, devoting himself to prayer.

He was made the patron saint of Calabria by Pope John XXIII in 1963.