Syrian migrants have told Italian investigators their smugglers aboard a cargo ship wore hoods to avoid identification before abandoning the helm in choppy Mediterranean waters.

Fleeing their homeland's war, they disembarked Saturday at Corigliano Calabro, in Calabria, from the Ezadeen, towed to port by an Icelandic coast guard ship.

Italian coast guard officials, lowered by helicopter onto the bridge, took control of the ship, which was on automatic pilot.

A local Prefect's Office official, Emanuela Greco, said 359 Syrians were aboard, including 42 women and 62 children, eight of them unaccompanied.

Cosenza Police Chief Luigi Liguori told reporters that migrants said crew members were hooded whenever they saw them. There are hopes Ezadeen's data recorder will reveal its exact route. Migrants told authorities they boarded in Turkey on Dec. 31.