Abandoned migrant ship Ezadeen reaches Italy

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The BBC's James Reynolds watched the ship arrive at port

A ship abandoned by its crew off Italy with 360 migrants on board has arrived at the Italian port of Corigliano Calabro, the coastguard says.

Earlier, rescuers boarded the Ezadeen after a passenger raised the alarm as it drifted in the Mediterranean.

The ship, sailing under the flag of Sierra Leone, lost power in rough seas off the south-east coast of Italy.

A total of 796 migrants were rescued from another ship found abandoned without any crew earlier in the week.

Italy's coastguard tweeted to say the Ezadeen had arrived into port shortly before 23:00 local time (22:00 GMT).

The coastguard commander in Corigliano Calabro, Francesco Perrotti, told the BBC all the migrants on board were from Syria.

He said they were being taken by bus to other parts of Italy. He described the migrants' physical condition as relatively good after their three-day ordeal.

Earlier coastguard Cmdr Filippo Marini told reporters that the Ezadeen was towed by an Icelandic ship that is part of the EU Frontex border control mission.

Image source, AP
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The Ezadeen is a livestock carrier built nearly 50 years ago
Image source, AP
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Authorities said there were some 450 migrants on board when it arrived in Italy late on Friday
Image source, AFP
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A coastguard commander said all were from war-torn Syria
Image source, Reuters
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Once ashore, migrants were given food and water by the Red Cross

Mr Marini added that the 73-metre (240ft) Ezadeen was believed to have set sail from Turkey, although earlier reports suggested it was sailing from Cyprus.

A Frontex spokesperson, Izabella Cooper, said the migrants were victims of smugglers using a different route to the usual one from Libya.

"What we are currently witnessing is the opening of a new migratory route where the smugglers buy old scrap cargo vessels, departing from Turkey," she said.

"This route is longer and the fees charged by the smugglers about three times higher than the fee charged by the smugglers from Libya."

The alarm was raised in a distress call from one of the migrants using the maritime radio on board, who told the Italian coastguard: "We're without crew, we're heading toward the Italian coast and we have no-one to steer."

The Ezadeen was built nearly 50 years ago and is a livestock carrier. It appears to be registered to a Lebanese company and has come under the control of human traffickers.

Analysis: Rob Watson, BBC News

The Ezadeen and the plight of its unfortunate passengers are part of an often unreported wave of human misery and hardship that sees hundreds of people try to cross the Mediterranean every day to reach Europe. Last year it is estimated that nearly 3,500 refugees died trying to attempt the crossing, while another 200,000 were rescued.

Despite the dangers, it is easy to see why the numbers keep growing. War and instability in the Middle East and poverty in Africa make people desperate to leave.

The International Organisation for Migration says half of those attempting to get to Europe are from either Syria or Eritrea. For the smugglers involved, it is a hugely lucrative trade with migrants paying anything from around $600 (£400) to nearly $6,000 (£4,000) for their passage.

As to the more frequent use of much larger ships such as the Ezadeen, UN officials believe it is a tactic forced on the smugglers by the winter weather - but one that allows them to make even bigger profits from their unfortunate cargo.

There is also concern that two ships found abandoned this week had set out from Turkey as opposed to the more frequently used coast of North Africa.

It means a new route may be opening up to this growing problem.

The first ship, the Blue Sky M, carrying 796 people, was abandoned and left on autopilot by its crew, believed to be people-traffickers.

Italian coastguards brought it under control and safely docked it at the Italian port of Gallipoli on Wednesday.

Vincent Cochetel, Europe director for UN refugee agency UNHCR, said the latest development was "part of an ongoing and worrying situation that can no longer be ignored by European governments".

Image source, Reuters
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The first ship, the Blue Sky M, was spotted floating adrift near the coast of Corfu on Tuesday
Image source, CRILecce
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Medics were on hand to treat migrants as they disembarked from the Blue Sky M on Wednesday

Greek officials were first alerted to the Blue Sky when it was near Corfu after a distress call from a man on board asking for food, water and blankets.

It was reportedly heading for the port of Rijeka in Croatia from Turkey.

According to tracking website MarineTraffic, the ship abruptly changed direction south of Othonoi on Tuesday morning, heading west towards Italy.

Italy has had to deal with a massive surge in migrants - many of them from the Middle East and the Horn of Africa - setting off on boats with hopes of reaching Europe.