Over 300 cold, hungry migrants rescued from ‘ghost ship’

Italian authorities disembarked some 360 cold and hungry migrants Saturday from a ship abandoned by its crew off the country’s jagged southern coast.

Hundreds of migrants were left stranded aboard the Ezadeen, which docked in the port of Corigliano Calabro around 11 pm Friday (Jan 2) after a delicate operation by the Italian navy to take control of the ageing vessel.

It had been left to drift in stormy seas off southern Italy without fuel or electricity.

Most of the 232 men, 54 women and 74 children aboard are thought to be Syrians fleeing the war in their homeland. They were all said to be in good health.

Six coastguard officers were lowered from a helicopter onto the deck of the Sierra Leone-flagged vessel on Friday to set up a tow for the 40 kilometres to the Italian coast.

The rescue is the latest in a series of maritime operations Italy has mounted in recent days as it struggles with a record wave of migrants making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.

On Wednesday, the navy had already faced drama after it stopped another crewless “ghost” ship left drifting with nearly 800 migrants on board.

An image grab taken from a video made available by the Aeronautica Militare Italiana on December 30, 2014 shows the Moldovan-flagged ship Blue Sky M in the Mediterranean Sea.

Some 700 illegal migrants rescued from the ship near the Greek island of Corfu arrived in Italy on December 31 after their boat was intercepted while drifting towards the coast.

Migrants are seen at a first aid center set up at the Gallipoli fitness center, on December 31, 2014, after arriving in Italy aboard the Moldovan-flagged ship Blue SKy M. Photos: AFP PHOTO / HO/ AERONAUTICA MILITARE ITALIANA, AFP

Italian authorities told reporters passengers on the Ezadeen had each paid US$4,000 (S$5341.2) -US$8,000 for the journey to Europe.

The passengers said they were flown from Lebanon to Turkey, where they set sail on December 31 aboard the ship that normally carries cattle.

According to the migrants, the crew members masked their faces throughout the journey, fueling suspicions they may not actually have abandoned ship but mixed in among the migrants while awaiting rescue.