Ship with 700 illegal migrants on board reaches Italy

ANKARA - A cargo ship carrying around 700 illegal migrants docked in the Italian port of Gallipoli on Wednesday after being abandoned by its crew a day earlier.

On Tuesday, Greek and Italian maritime authorities received a distress call from the Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M that was sailing near the Greek island of Corfu.

Greek authorities sent a navy frigate and helicopters, but the navy captain said no one on board the ship was in danger, although passengers did need immediate assistance.

Authorities took control of the vessel after noticing no crew members on board. 

Italian coast guard spokesman Filippo Marini said authorities had "avoided disaster" by interrupting the programmed route which would have had the ship crash into Italy's coast line. 

Traffickers who organize these trips often abandon the ship at sea in order to avoid arrest.

Several reports suggest the passengers were mostly Syrians and Kurds.  

The ship had left Turkey and was heading to Croatia, but changed its route Tuesday morning, heading toward Italy, according to Marine Traffic, a vessel traffic monitoring system. 

The incident comes two days after an Italian ferry with 478 passengers on board caught fire between Greece and Italy and prompted a two-day rescue operation, where 11 people lost their lives.

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