Italian officials have boarded a cargo ship in the Mediterranean said to be carrying hundreds of migrants. The Blue Sky M had left Greek waters and was making its way to Italy.
Three coast guard officers were sent down from a helicopter to assess whether the Blue Sky M was able to navigate safely after one of its passengers sent a distress call earlier on Tuesday when the ship left Greece.
As the ship came closer to Italy, port authorities dispatched two helicopters and six coast guard officials to the vessel. Italian coast guard spokesman Filippo Marini said that his team took control of the ship after no crew was found. The coast guard officers also tried to unblock the motor so the ship could be safely brought back to port.
His team “avoided disaster” by interrupting the programmed route of the ship, which would have otherwise crashed into the shore, the Associated Press reported Marini as saying.
Six hundred passengers are assumed to be travelling in the ship, which was spotted close to the Greek island of Corfu on Tuesday. Greek state television reported an alarm being raised because of armed men being on board, but the captain of Blue Sky M assured Greek officials that the situation was under control.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, nearly 200,000 migrants have arrived in Italy and Greece between by sea between January and November of this year. Most migrants flee their homes in North Africa and the Middle East and often put their lives at risk, trying to cross the Mediterranean in flimsy boats.
Conflicts in Syria and anarchy in Libya have worsened the migrant crisis.