An Icelandic Coast Guard ship was today towing a cargo vessel to Italy with about 450 migrants who were abandoned by smugglers, leaving the vessel navigating without a crew, authorities said.

Italian Coast Guard spokesman Filippo Marini said today that after several hours of struggling in rough seas, rescue teams managed to secure the Ezadeen for towing toward the southern Calabrian region. The Icelandic ship, part of a new European patrol force to aid migrants at sea, was doing the towing.

Children and pregnant women were among the migrants, most of who were believed to be Syrian, said Marini. The Sierra-Leone-flagged cargo ship apparently set sail from Turkey, he said.

The exact port of the Ezadeen’s arrival will depend on sea conditions, authorities aid.

Earlier today Marini said that a migrant had called for help saying: “We’re without crew, we’re heading towards the Italian coast and we have no one to steer.”

The Ezadeen is the second cargo ship full of migrants to be abandoned while still sailing this week. Days earlier, the Italian Coast Guard, in a daring attempt, lowered officials on to another, Moldovan-flagged, cargo vessel so they could take control of the ship, which was only a few miles from crashing in to the Italian coast.

More than 170,000 migrants were intercepted or needed rescue by Italian navy, coast guard and air force patrols last year. This apparently new technique by smugglers of abandoning a ship after setting it on a crash course complicates rescue efforts, Marini told Italian state radio, “but the important thing is there are lives to be saved”.

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