Sierra Leone-flagged vessel Ezadeen, which was carrying 450 migrants, has been towed back to Italy after being abandoned by crew, the second vessel to do so in just four days.
Ezadeen, a large vessel registered to Sierra Leone, has been abandoned by its crew in rough seas while having 450 migrants on board. The vessel is now being towed back to a port in the southern region of Calabria by an Icelandic ship – part of the a recent European patrol force set up to replace the Italian search and rescue effort, Operation Mare Nostrum, that was recently cancelled by the Italian government.
The Ezadeen is the second vessel to have such an incident occur in less than a week. Just four days prior the Moldova-flagged vessel Blue Sky M was rescued in a similar way and towed back to Italy, having seen its crew abandon ship in rough weather.
Blue Sky M was carrying over 900 migrants, four of which were found dead, when it was towed back to an Italian port. The migrants were offered medical assistance by Italian authorities upon arrival. Most of the migrants were of Syrian ethnicity, escaping the conflict in the region. The captain and several crew of the ship – also of Syrian origin – were later arrested, having not left the ship when the controls were abandoned, but rather mingling among the other migrants.
Both Ezadeen and Blue Sky M were left on collision courses when they were abandoned, Blue Sky M was just 30 minutes away from crashing into a coastline when it was finally brought under control.
More than 170,000 people trying to reach Europe have been plucked from the sea by Italian rescuers in the past 14 months. But hundreds, and possibly thousands, have perished trying to make the crossing.
The European Commission is monitoring the Ezadeen situation carefully, concerned that the frequency and similarities between the two incidents suggest that human traffickers may have found a new, ruthless way of smuggling migrants into Europe. A method that endangers not just the migrants aboard the floating vessels, but also other ships and traffic operating within the Mediterranean Sea.