Italy Coastguard Rescues Drifting Migrant Ship

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On Friday, the Ezadeen, a merchant ship carrying 450 migrants, was rescued by Italy’s coastguard after the ship was found drifting crewless just off the mainland, reports the BBC. The coastguard was alerted to the ship’s predicament when one of the Ezadeen’s passengers sent out a distress call on the ship’s radio, reporting that the crew had abandoned the ship and there was no one to steer as the passengers—including children and pregnant women—drifted ever closer to shore.

The Ezadeen was sailing under the flag of Sierra Leone, but it is not yet clear where the ship set sail from. According to Commander Filippo Marini of the Italian coast guard, the ship may have left Turkey, though previous reports suggest Cyprus was its port of origin. The ship allegedly lost power sailing in rough seas overnight off Italy’s southeastern coast. According to Marini, the ship was set on a course to collide with the coast, but ran out of fuel after days of rough sailing. The vessel had been at sea for about six days, delayed by the poor conditions, and had run out of food and water, reports The New York Times.

Part of a coordinated European border agency program, an Icelandic patrol boat was the first aid to reach the vessel, but rough waters made it impossible for rescuers from the Icelandic ship to board. It was not until an Italian coastguard helicopter arrived and lowered men onto the ship that the Icelandic vessel was able to tow the Ezadeen safely to shore.

The 50-year-old livestock vessel was the second ship in three days found off Italy’s coast, adrift and crammed with mainly Syrian migrants, and the Ezadeen is one of at least four such incidents in the past two months, says United Nations spokesman, William Spindler. The rescued ships represent a scourge of illegal migrants desperate to make a new home in Europe.

On Wednesday, a large cargo ship carrying 728 migrants was rescued near the island of Corfu by Italy’s coastguard, according to Aljazeera. The migrants were mostly Syrian and the Blue Sky M was on autopilot, aimed at Italy’s coast and free of crew. Hundreds of people attempt the dangerous Mediterranean crossing into Europe from war-torn and impoverished nations in Africa, Southwest Asia and the Middle East, creating a booming business for human traffickers: smugglers charge anywhere from $600 to $6,000 per passenger.

According to NPR, over 30,000 migrants from Southwest Asia and the Middle East entered Greece illegally in 2014, and an estimated 2,500 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean into Europe. While the crossing itself is nothing new, the methods employed in recent crossings like those of the Ezadeen and the Blue Sky M in Italy point to emerging trends in the transportation of huge vessels, jam-packed with migrants replacing smaller fishing boats and dinghies, as well as a new route.

The recent use of large cargo vessels for human smuggling is thought to be in response to the rough winter weather, but gives smugglers added benefit of moving hundreds of migrants at a time, meaning more money for traffickers, says the BBC. Previously, migrants attempting the Mediterranean crossing started out from the North African coast, but the latest rescued ships are believed to have set sail from Turkey or Cyprus. It is not yet known what led to the change in route.

By Sree Aatmaa Khalsa

The New York Times
Photo by: Luca Prioli – Flickr License