The Icelandic Coast Guard vessel Týr is towing a tramp steamer which was abandoned by its crew off the southeast coast of Italy with 450 people, thought to be from Syria, onboard.
A rescue team boarded the Ezadeen, a 73-meter (240-feet) 50-year-old ship built to carry livestock, and it is now headed for the port of Crotone, bbc.com reports.
According to Italian Coast Guard Cmdr Filippo Marini the vessel is believed to have set sail from Turkey, although earlier reports suggested it was sailing from Cyprus. Ezadeen is sailing under the flag of Sierra Leone but appears to be registered to a Lebanese company and has come under the control of human traffickers, bbc.com reports.
Týr and the Icelandic Coast Guard’s surveillance aircraft Dash 8 are carrying out assignments for Frontex, the European Union’s external borders agency.
Týr rescued two large groups of refugees of around 400 in early December. Earlier this week, another vessel rescued around 1,000 people from another ship also found abandoned by its crew in the Mediterranean. The individuals were taken to local schools and a gymnasium while 35 were taken to hospital, with some treated for hypothermia.
A record number of refugees died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2014. More than 3,400 people perished in the waters off Europe last year, according to UNHCR. A total of 207,000 had made the journey, three times as many as in 2011, which was a record year. The largest group was from Syria, or 60,000 individuals.