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360 migrants leave 'ghost ship' stranded off Italian coast

The vessel has been abandoned by its crew and the 450 Syrian migrants were left for days without food or water.
Jan 3rd 2015, 8:57 PM 20,085 47

Updated 9.15pm

ITALIAN AUTHORITIES DISEMBARKED some 360 cold and hungry migrants Saturday from a ship abandoned by its crew off the country’s jagged southern coast.

Women and children were among hundreds of migrants left stranded aboard the Ezadeen, which docked in the port of Corigliano Calabro around 11:00 pm (2200 GMT) Friday after a delicate operation by the Italian navy to take control of the ageing vessel.

It had been left to drift in stormy seas off southern Italy without fuel or electricity.

In the dark rescuers had first thought that it could be holding up to 450 people but after docking, the authorities revised the count to 360.

Most of the 232 men, 54 women and 74 children aboard are thought to be Syrians fleeing the war in their homeland. They were all said to be in good health.

Six coastguard officers were lowered from a helicopter onto the deck of the Sierra Leone-flagged vessel on Friday to set up a tow for the 40 kilometres (25 miles) to the Italian coast.

Italy Migrants Stranded at Sea Source: AP/Press Association Images

The rescue is the latest in a series of maritime operations Italy has mounted in recent days as it struggles with a record wave of migrants making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.

On Wednesday, the navy had already faced drama after it stopped another crewless “ghost” ship left drifting with nearly 800 migrants on board.

Italian authorities told reporters passengers on the Ezadeen had each paid $4,000-8,000 (€3,300-6,600) for the journey to Europe.

The migrants’ journey

The authorities also provided new details of the migrants’ itinerary.

The passengers said they were flown from Lebanon to Turkey, where they set sail on December 31 aboard the ship that normally carries cattle.

According to the migrants, the crew members masked their faces throughout the journey, fuelling suspicions they may not actually have abandoned ship but mixed in among the migrants while awaiting rescue.

‘We are alone’

Italy Migrants Stranded at Sea Young men wait on board as the cargo ship Ezadeen, carrying hundreds of migrants, arrives at the southern Italian port of Corigliano Source: AP/Press Association Images

The nearly 50-year-old Ezadeen was spotted by a coastguard plane 80 miles offshore shortly after nightfall Thursday.

A female refugee raised the alarm over the ship’s radio, telling the coastguard that the crew had abandoned the vessel, coastguard spokesman Captain Filippo Marini said.

“We are alone, there is no one, help us!” Marini quoted her as saying.

An Icelandic patrol boat Tyr, which was in the area on a mission with the European Union’s border agency Frontex, came to the rescue but rough weather conditions made boarding the ship impossible.

After the vessel ran out of fuel, five Tyr crew members were winched onto the ship by helicopter to care for passengers until the Italian coastguard arrived to take control.

“The migrants aboard were visibly distressed but overall in good medical condition. They have been provided with food, water and basic medical assistance,” a Frontex statement said Friday.

Italy Migrants Stranded at Sea The cargo ship Ezadeen Source: AP/Press Association Images

The incident marked the third sea rescue operation Italy’s navy has been forced to mount in a week.

The first arose with after a deadly fire broke out on the Norman Atlantic ferry Sunday between Greece and Italy.

Italian prosecutors fear the Norman Atlantic, which has been towed to the port of Brindisi, could contain the bodies of illegal immigrants and unregistered passengers yet to be discovered.

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Bari prosecutor Giuseppe Volpe said almost 500 people may have been aboard — far above the 474 officially on the manifest — prompting fears the current death toll of 13 may rise once the ferry is fully searched.

New smuggling tactics

Italy Migrants Stranded at Sea Source: AP/Press Association Images

Three days after the ferry fire, a ship carrying nearly 770 migrants was found drifting Wednesday towards the rocks off Italy’s southeastern shore.

The Blue Sky M freighter was on autopilot, after having been abandoned by the people smugglers who had sailed it from Turkey.

The appearance of two drifting migrant boats in under a week has raised concerns that smugglers have started abandoning large boatloads of people in European waters as a new tactic to maximise profits from their ruthless trade.

The Moldovan-registered Blue Sky M got within five miles of running aground before six navy officers were lowered on to the ship by helicopter and succeeded in bringing it under control.

The passengers, who were said to be mainly Syrians and Kurds, included some 60 children and two pregnant women, one of whom gave birth on board, according to the Italian Red Cross.

Some of the migrants were treated for hypothermia and injuries, including broken limbs.

More than 170,000 people have been rescued at sea by Italy in the last 14 months, and hundreds, possibly thousands, have perished trying to make the crossing.

- © AFP 2015.

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