GALLIPOLI, Italy (AFP) – Italy’s coastguard said Wednesday it had narrowly averted another high seas disaster by intercepting a freighter that was on a collision course with the country’s rocky shoreline with more than 900 Syrian refugees on board.
In what was the second mari-time drama of recent days, officers revealed that the huge cargo ship’s engine had been locked on with the steering set on a direction that would have led to it crashing ashore somewhere in the Puglia region on the “heel” of Italy.
The coastguard, already working flat out because of the Norman Atlantic ferry fire, scrambled two helicopters overnight after realising that the Moldovan-registered Blue Sky M, was headed for disaster.
Six coastguard officers boarded the vessel and, after some frantic moments on the bridge, were able to unlock the engines and bring the boat under control just five miles from the coast.
“It was a real race against the clock,” coastguard spokesman Filippo Marini said. “Unlocking the engines was a difficult and delicate operation, but they managed to do it.”
In a tweet from its official account, the coastguard said a “massacre” had been avoided.
The migrants onboard, including a heavily pregnant woman whose waters broke during the drama, were taken to the port of Gallipoli as an inquest began into how the alarming incident had occurred.