Built to transport livestock, it was carrying some 450 migrants that the Ezadeen cargo ship arrived at the southern Italian port of Corigliano Calabro late on Friday after being abandoned by its crew in rough seas.
The Sierra-Leone flagged vessel, nearly 50 years old, had been put on a collision course with Italy’s coast before running out of fuel.
With the migrants’ nationalities unclear, authorities are taking no chances with health and safety and some at the port wore special protective suits.
Reports suggest most of the migrants are from war-torn Syria, setting off from Turkey bound for Europe and paying people smugglers for the voyage.
“We know that it left from a Turkish port and was abandoned by its crew,” coastguard spokesman Filippo Marini told SkyTG24 television.
“When we hailed the ship to ask about its status, a migrant woman responded, saying, ‘We are alone and we have no one to help us.’”
Secured and towed to safety, this was the second such abandoned ship full of migrants off Italy in recent days, in a new tactic by the traffickers – playing with the lives of the desperate men, women and children on board.