ROME – An Icelandic Coast Guard ship was towing a cargo vessel to Italy Friday with about 450 migrants who were abandoned by smugglers, leaving the vessel in rough seas without a crew, authorities said Friday.
Italian Coast Guard Cmdr. Filippo Marini said that after several hours of struggling, Italian rescue teams shortly before dawn managed to secure the wave-tossed Ezadeen for towing toward the southern Calabrian region. The Icelandic ship Tyr, part of a European new European patrol force to detect and aid migrants at sea, was doing the towing.
Children and pregnant women were among the migrants, most of who were believed to be Syrian, said Marini. The Sierra-Leone-flagged cargo ship apparently set sail from Turkey, he said.
By midday, the migrants were still hours away from land. Authorities still didn't know which port would receive the ship with its human cargo. Bad weather made the route unsure, with two ports of the Calabrian coastline in the `'instep" of the Italian boot-shaped peninsula being cited as possibilities.
Italian Air Force official Nicolo Nicolosi told Sky TG24 TV that engineers and electricians were lowered by Air Force helicopter to the ship to get the Ezadeen steering smoothly so it could safely enter a port. A blackout on board complicated efforts; the cause of the blackout was not immediately clear.
`'So far the operation is going well," said Nicolosi.
Earlier on Friday, Marini said that a migrant had called for help saying: "we're without crew, we're heading toward the Italian coast and we have no one to steer."
The Ezadeen is the second cargo ship full of migrants to be abandoned at sea this week. Days earlier, the Italian Coast Guard lowered officials onto the Moldovan-flagged cargo vessel Blue Sky M so they could take control of the ship, which was close to crashing into the Italian coast with hundreds of migrants aboard.
More than 170,000 migrants were intercepted or needed rescue by Italian navy, coast guard and air force patrols last year. This apparently new technique by smugglers of abandoning a ship after setting it on a crash course complicates rescue efforts, Marini told Italian state radio, `'but the important thing is there are lives to be saved."