Italy saves 970 migrants abandoned by smugglers

Italy saves 970 migrants abandoned by smugglers

By Frances D'Emilio, Associated Press | Posted - Dec. 31, 2014 at 7:20 a.m.


3 photos

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

ROME (AP) — The Italian Coast Guard rescued 970 migrants Wednesday after smugglers put their cargo ship on automatic pilot heading straight for a crash into the Italian coast and abandoned the command.

The Coast Guard officials said the migrants, most believed to be Syrians and including many children and pregnant women, arrived safely in Gallipoli, in Italy's southeastern Puglia region, before dawn Wednesday. More than 100 migrants were treated for hypothermia.

"It was a race against time," said Coast Guard Cmdr. Filippo Marini. "The ship was only a few (nautical) miles away from the coast of Puglia" on Tuesday night when six Coast Guard officials were lowered by helicopter onto the bridge of the Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M to try to correct the ship's course.

Marini said the smugglers apparently had left the engine blocked on automatic pilot at a speed of 6 knots (nearly 7 mph) into the coast.

"There would have been death and destruction" if the vessel had crashed into the coast, he added.

Because a storm was churning up the Adriatic Sea, rescuers couldn't board the ship from nearby Coast Guard vessels. But once on board they unblocked the engine and steered the vessel safely into Gallipoli's harbor, Marini said.

The Coast Guard traced the ship's location after a passenger made a satellite phone call seeking help. It was not clear what port the ship had left from.

To avoid capture, smugglers frequently abandon migrants at sea, sometimes overturning the passengers' unseaworthy boats, according to survivors. This year alone, well over 100,000 migrants were rescued at sea by Italy. Hundreds drowned in the attempt.

Asked how the smugglers could flee given the stormy seas, Marini said the migrants were being interviewed to see if the smugglers might be mingled among them.

___

Follow Frances D'Emilio on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos

Frances D'Emilio

    SIGN UP FOR THE KSL.COM NEWSLETTER

    Catch up on the top news and features from KSL.com, sent weekly.
    By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

    KSL Weather Forecast