The Ezadeen, the ship sailing under the flag of Sierra Leone, had lost power and was abandoned by its captain and crew. The ship was some 60 kilometers off Italy’s southeastern tip. According to the Guardian, Italian Coastguard commander Filippo Marini said one of the migrants managed to operate the ship’s radio and called for help early on Friday: “We’re without crew, we’re heading toward the Italian coast and we have no one to steer.”
The Italian air force sent a helicopter from an air base in southern Italy to help rescuers and doctors from the Icelandic rescue ship to board the runaway Ezadeen. “Because of the difficult weather conditions the ship can only be boarded from the air,” the air force said in a statement, quoted by Deutsche Welle.
The Ezadeen was built half a century ago and has been used as a livestock carrier. The ship was registered to a Lebanese company, but later came under the control of human traffickers, the BBC said.
The number of migrants trying to illegally reach Europe by sea from the Middle East and North Africa reached a record high in 2014. More than 170,000 people were rescued by Italy in the last 14 months, while as many as 3,000 perished trying to make the journey across the sea, Aljazeera said.