The Italian navy has this morning taken control of an unmanned cargo ship with an estimated 450 migrants aboard that was on a collision course with the coast, the second such vessel to be abandoned and set to crash in just a few days.
The Italian Airforce sent a helicopter to bring the Sierra Leone-flagged vessel under control, saying in a statement that they could only board the ship from the air due to bad weather conditions.
Filippo Marini, a commander in the Italian Coastguard, said that one of the migrants on aboard was able to operate the radio and sent a message pleading for help saying: “We’re without crew, we’re heading toward the Italian coast and we have no one to steer.”
Sky News reports that the coastguard also asked for assistance from an Icelandic ship, Tyr, which was also in the area at the time. The Tyr pulled up alongside the out-of-control boat, but the crew were unable to board due to poor weather conditions. They will now be winched aboard by the air force helicopter to offer medical assistance to the migrants.
The incident comes just days after a ship carrying around 1000 migrants was abandoned by its crew and set to crash into the Italian coast. The ship got to within five miles of the coast before six navy officers brought it under control.
Most of the migrants were Syrians fleeing the ongoing conflict with Islamic State, including 60 children and two pregnant women, one of whom gave birth on board the ship. Four of the migrants were later found dead on the ship once it had docked in the province of Lecce.