A ship carrying hundreds of migrants has been abandoned by its crew in rough seas in the Mediterranean off Italy's south coast in the second such incident in three days, the Italian coastguard said on Friday.
The cargo ship had been drifting powerlessly after running out of fuel about 40 miles from Italy's southern coast with as many as 450 people on board. The ship is said to be more than 50 years old.
Coastguard Spokesman Filippo Marini told SkyTG24 television that the ship left from a Turkish port and was abandoned in the Mediterranean by its crew members at the early hour of today.
It had been put on a collision course for the Italian coast before running out of fuel, he said."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."
An Official said that the nationality of the migrants was not yet known, but there are women and children on board. It is the third such migrant ship in the past two weeks as smugglers turn to abandoning old ships in a shift in tactics.
On Wednesday, about 800 migrants, mostly Syrian refugees, arrived in Italy after they were apparently abandoned by their ship's crew and set on a crash course for the Italian coast. The coastguard also boarded that vessel and took over navigation.
Two weeks ago, the Italian navy went to the aid of an abandoned cargo ship carrying 850 migrants, disembarking them at a port in Sicily.
The United Nations refugee agency says 160,000 seaborne migrants arrived in Italy by November 2014 and a further 40,000 in Greece. Thousands more have died attempting the journey.
A Spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, told Reuters that Smugglers have changed tactics because Italy has ended its Mare Nostrum maritime search and rescue mission, which makes a crossing in a small boat more risky, and due to increased fighting in Libya.