CORIGLIANO CALABRO, Italy (Reuters) – A cargo ship abandoned by its crew with 359 Syrian refugees onboard was towed ashore in Italy on Saturday in the second such res-cue this week, prompting calls for European Union action in the face of new tactics by human traffickers.
The Ezadeen, a Sierra-Leone-flagged vessel that had set sail from Turkey, docked in the southern Ita-lian port of Corigliano Calabro.
The passengers, including 62 minors, were in good condition and were being transferred to immi-gration centres and foster homes across Italy, coastguard and police officials said. The decrepit vessel, licensed only to carry livestock, was strewn with steel containers, broken chairs, piles of garbage bags, empty gasoline tanks and scattered clothes and belongings.
On Wednesday, about 800 mostly Syrian migrants were rescued from another ‘ghost ship’, the Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M. It too was aban-doned at sea, highlighting a new ploy by traffickers who make money by promising refugees a transfer to Europe.
War in Syria swelled the number of people attempting to cross the Mediterranean last year, with some 160,000 seaborne migrants arri-ving in Italy by the end of November. Thousands of others drowned.
Most used to cross in small boats. But in recent months smugglers have increasingly used cargo ships to ferry large groups from ports in Turkey or Egypt, according to Italian and United Nations officials.
“Smugglers are finding new routes to Europe… employing new methods in order to exploit desperate peo-ple,” said Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU Commissioner for Migration. “These events underscore the need for… EU-wide action.”
He said the European Union was preparing a new migration plan to be presented “in due course”, and which would make the fight against smugglers a priority. But efforts have been hampered by the sheer weight of migrant numbers, the cost of sea patrols and arguments within the EU over how to share the burden.
Italy recently phased out its ex-pensive Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) search-and-rescue operation on the Mediterranean. It was replaced by a smaller EU joint mission, but Ita-lian politicians and UN officials say further efforts are needed.