Update as of 5:17 a.m. EST: The Italian coast guard has managed to take control of a ship adrift off the country's coast, Agence France-Presse reported. The boat, which is carrying migrants, was abandoned by its crew after it lost power.
A merchant ship, which is carrying about 450 migrants and was abandoned by its crew, is being rescued by the Italian coast guard after it lost power. The Italian air force reportedly said that a helicopter was sent to the spot to lower men onto the vessel while another ship from Iceland was also trying to provide assistance to the adrift vessel.
The nearly 50-year-old ship was reportedly floating without power about 40 miles off Capo di Leuca, the tip of Italy’s heel. The ship was identified as the 73-meter Sierra Leone-registered Ezadeen, and was supposed to be sailing between Cyprus and the French southern port of Sete. It was first spotted by the Italian coast guard just after nightfall when it was travelling at the speed of seven knots, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
"Because of the difficult weather conditions the ship can only be boarded from the air," the Italian air force said in a statement, according to AFP.
After the ship lost power, one of the people on board reportedly used the vessel’s radio to contact the coast guard to report that the crew had abandoned ship. The coast guard, in turn, asked the Icelandic patrol boat Tyr, which was near the Ezadeen, to provide assistance. The migrant ship now has three doctors on board to provide assistance to any unwell passengers, the air force said, according to AFP.
The latest incident comes after another ship, carrying nearly 770 passengers, mostly migrants from Syria, was abandoned by human traffickers earlier this week. The Moldovan vessel, Blue Sky M, which also had about 60 children and two pregnant women on board was coming from Turkey and meant to be sailing through Greek waters. However, it was found drifting on autopilot toward Italy’s rocky southeastern coast, until six navy officers were lowered to the ship to take over the vessel and sail it to the port of Gallipoli in southern Italy, according to AFP.
A growing number of people are risking their lives to undertake the perilous crossing between Africa and Europe, as conflicts have worsened in the Middle East and North Africa. And, in the last 14 months, over 170,000 people have been rescued by Italy alone.