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.