From ANSA:

The hunt is on for the 'travelling companions' of a 2,400-year-old bronze satyr fished out of the sea off Sicily eight years ago.

On Wednesday morning, in a patch of sea between Sicily and Tunisia, a research ship began scanning the seabed with sophisticated sonar equipment able to spot objects as small as an ancient amphora.

The Dancing Satyr, retrieved from the same patch of water in March 1998, is one of Italy's most important marine archaeological finds ever - second only to the famed Riace Bronzes.

Sicily's maritime culture officials are convinced that more objects of the same type have been lying on the sea floor ever since the ancient ship carrying the original satyr sank.

The search operation is being financed by Italian energy group ENI, which has long experience of scanning ocean floors in order to lay underwater cables and pipes.

"It's a dream come true," said Giorgio Macaddino, mayor of Mazara del Vallo, the west Sicilian town which has become famous thanks to the Dancing Satyr now in its museum.

Archaeologists and other experts aboard the search vessel will examine the signals and images produced by the sonar system. If anything interesting emerges a diving bell will be sent down to the sea bed for a closer look.

The 2-metre-high bronze figure found by fishermen from Mazara eight years ago is thought to have been part of a group including Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and fertility, and other satyrs, fauns and mythological creatures.

The satyr's origin is still a riddle. Some think it is the work of the fabled ancient Greek sculptor Praxiteles but others believe it is a Roman copy.

Although it is missing both arms and one leg, its cocked head, tossed hair, torso and bounding leg are remarkably well-preserved.

Art restorers spent four years cleaning the sculpture and fitting it with a steel bracing to help it stand upright.

It was the star attraction in the Italian pavilion at Japan's World Expo trade and culture fair in 2005, attracting some 10,000 visitors a day.

Thousands also flocked to see it when it went on display in Rome in 2004 and museums such as the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan in New York have been clamouring to be lent the piece ever since.