A ship crammed with migrants and abandoned by its crew arrives in the Italian port of Corigliano Calabro after being towed in by the Italian coastguard.
The 60-metre-long Ezadeen, a former livestock carrier, was floating without power around 65km off the coast of Capo di Leuca when a migrant on board managed to radio the coastguard and request help.
The 50-year-old vessel was towed to port by an Icelandic ship and arrived shortly after 23:00 local time (22:00 GMT) on Friday, the coastguard said in a tweet.
All of the 360 migrants on board were from Syria, coastguard commander Francesco Perrotti told the BBC. The migrants were in good condition and were being taken by bus to other parts of Italy, he said.
We’re without crew, we’re heading toward the Italian coast and we have no-one to steer Radio message from on board migrant to the Italian coastguard
The Ezadeen is the second abandoned ship to be found in the last week after its crew had fled. On Tuesday the Blue Sky M freighter made an abrupt change of course and headed towards the Italian coast. A total of 796 migrants were found on board.
The “ghost ship” Ezadeen in dock after disgorging 400 Syrians who say they’d fled from “hell”: $5k a ticket to Europe pic.twitter.com/LoF5rnhzkQ
— Jonathan Miller (@millerC4) January 3, 2015
The Ezadeen appears to be registered with owners in Lebanon and also has links to the Syrian city of Tartous, where the ship docked in October.
The ship appears to have set sail from Turkey, which experts fear is the start of a new trafficking route for smugglers.
Flavio Di Giacomo from the International Organisation for Migration told Channel 4 News that since the end of November, traffickers from Syria and Turkey had been using huge cargo ships to smuggle migrants into Europe.
“These are new routes, new ways of travelling,” he said.
Mr Di Giacomo said that he had spoken to migrants who had arrived in Italy in December. They told him that they had paid between $4,000 and $6,000 USD each for a place on the six-day-long journey.
Mr Di Giacomo said that between mid-December and the end of the year 3,500 migrants arrived in Italy after crossing the Mediterranean.
James Wilkes, managing director of maritime investigation specialists Gray Page told Channel 4 News: “This is organised crime. Make no doubt about it.”
Mr Wilkes estimates that criminal gangs could make millions from smuggling migrants into Europe on the ships.
“They’d pay maybe a couple $100,000 USD for the vessel. To get these old ships legitimately registered is expensive. Owners won’t really mind who they’re selling them to.”