Almost 1,000 migrants have been rescued from a cargo ship found adrift in Greek waters, the Red Cross says. The Blue Sky M, carrying 970 people, had been abandoned and left on autopilot by its crew, believed to be people traffickers.
Italian coastguards later brought it under control and safely docked it at the Italian port of Gallipoli.
The migrants, believed to be mainly Syrians and Kurds, have been taken to local schools and a gymnasium.
Thirty-five of them were taken to hospital, with some treated
for hypothermia, Italian Red Cross spokeswoman Mimma Antonacci said.
"They [the migrants] are now in all the schools around
Gallipoli and they are recording now and trying to find out the names,
but we're talking about Syrians," she added.
The Italian Red Cross had previously said that four people
were found dead on the ship. It later withdrew its report, and officials
now say no-one is known to have died on the ship, Reuters reports.
The passengers of the Blue Sky M cargo ship have a strange,
terrifying story to tell. Hundreds of migrants paid thousands of dollars
each to smugglers to get them to Europe.
Mohammed from Iraq was one of the passengers. "One week we
sleep in the ship," he said in broken English. "[We] don't have clean
water, don't have food, don't have doctor… women, children all sick."
It would appear that the smugglers left the ship's controls
on autopilot and then abandoned ship - leaving the Blue Sky M to head
towards the Italian coast. The migrants inside the boat did not know
what was going on.
"Inside the room," continued Mohammed, "[We] don't have any information about life or death."
The coastguard boarded the ship, disengaged the autopilot and
steered it to port. In Gallipoli, the refugees are now being cared for
in local schools.
"It's an emergency, a real emergency," says rescue volunteer Federica Palumbo.