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Italian coast guard rescues 970 migrants abandoned by smugglers in rough seas

  • The Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M carrying hundreds of migrants arrives at the southern Italian port of Gallipoli, some 170 kilometers (108 miles) south of Bari, Italy, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014. Italian authorities took control Tuesday of a cargo ship carrying hundreds of migrants after the crew disappeared and set it on a programmed route to crash into a coast, officials said. The alarm was first raised about the Blue Sky M after a passenger sent a distress call earlier Tuesday when the ship was off Greece. The operation came two days after a Greek-operated ferry caught fire between Greece and Italy with the loss of at least 11 lives, prompting a two-day search and rescue effort. (AP Photo/ Ivan Tortorella)

    The Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M carrying hundreds of migrants arrives at the southern Italian port of Gallipoli, some 170 kilometers (108 miles) south of Bari, Italy, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014. Italian authorities took control Tuesday of a cargo ship carrying hundreds of migrants after the crew disappeared and set it on a programmed route to crash into a coast, officials said. The alarm was first raised about the Blue Sky M after a passenger sent a distress call earlier Tuesday when the ship was off Greece. The operation came two days after a Greek-operated ferry caught fire between Greece and Italy with the loss of at least 11 lives, prompting a two-day search and rescue effort. (AP Photo/ Ivan Tortorella)  (The Associated Press)

  • The Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M carrying hundreds of migrants arrives at the southern Italian port of Gallipoli, some 170 kilometers (108 miles) south of Bari, Italy, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014. Italian authorities took control Tuesday of a cargo ship carrying hundreds of migrants after the crew disappeared and set it on a programmed route to crash into a coast, officials said. The alarm was first raised about the Blue Sky M after a passenger sent a distress call earlier Tuesday when the ship was off Greece. The operation came two days after a Greek-operated ferry caught fire between Greece and Italy with the loss of at least 11 lives, prompting a two-day search and rescue effort. (AP Photo/ Ivan Tortorella)

    The Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M carrying hundreds of migrants arrives at the southern Italian port of Gallipoli, some 170 kilometers (108 miles) south of Bari, Italy, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014. Italian authorities took control Tuesday of a cargo ship carrying hundreds of migrants after the crew disappeared and set it on a programmed route to crash into a coast, officials said. The alarm was first raised about the Blue Sky M after a passenger sent a distress call earlier Tuesday when the ship was off Greece. The operation came two days after a Greek-operated ferry caught fire between Greece and Italy with the loss of at least 11 lives, prompting a two-day search and rescue effort. (AP Photo/ Ivan Tortorella)  (The Associated Press)

  • A woman and a child rescued from the Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M carrying hundreds of migrants arrive at the southern Italian port of Gallipoli, some 170 kilometers (108 miles) south of Bari, Italy, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014. Italian authorities took control Tuesday of a cargo ship carrying hundreds of migrants after the crew disappeared and set it on a programmed route to crash into a coast, officials said. The alarm was first raised about the Blue Sky M after a passenger sent a distress call earlier Tuesday when the ship was off Greece. The operation came two days after a Greek-operated ferry caught fire between Greece and Italy with the loss of at least 11 lives, prompting a two-day search and rescue effort. (AP Photo/ Ivan Tortorella)

    A woman and a child rescued from the Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M carrying hundreds of migrants arrive at the southern Italian port of Gallipoli, some 170 kilometers (108 miles) south of Bari, Italy, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014. Italian authorities took control Tuesday of a cargo ship carrying hundreds of migrants after the crew disappeared and set it on a programmed route to crash into a coast, officials said. The alarm was first raised about the Blue Sky M after a passenger sent a distress call earlier Tuesday when the ship was off Greece. The operation came two days after a Greek-operated ferry caught fire between Greece and Italy with the loss of at least 11 lives, prompting a two-day search and rescue effort. (AP Photo/ Ivan Tortorella)  (The Associated Press)

The Italian Coast Guard has safely rescued 970 migrants after smugglers abandoned them on a cargo ship in rough seas.

Coast Guard officials said the migrants, most of them believed to be Syrians, arrived in Gallipoli, southeastern Italy, before dawn Wednesday. More than 100 migrants were treated for hypothermia.

Six Italian Coast Guard workers had been lowered by helicopter onto the Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M after a passenger sent out a distress call while the ship was off the Greek coast. Coast Guard Cmdr. Filippo Marini said they found no crew aboard and the ship's engine shut off. The Italians then steered the ship to Italy.

To avoid capture, smugglers frequently abandon migrants at sea. Tens of thousands try to cross the Mediterranean each year, fleeing conflict and poverty.