• Italy's coast guard brings a crewless freighter packed with migrants safely into port

  • The crew had abandoned the freighter, which was cruising toward the rocky coast

  • Most of the 768 people aboard are thought to be migrants from Syria

  • Italian coast guard says its action saved lives, prevented an environmental disaster

Rome (CNN) -- A freighter carrying 768 people, most believed to be migrants from war-torn Syria, docked safely in the southern Italian port of Gallipoli on Wednesday after the coast guard seized control.

The Italian coast guard told CNN a "real disaster" was avoided when Italian authorities boarded the Blue Sky M after the crew apparently jumped ship.

Italian coast guard commander Filippo Marini said the vessel was cruising on autopilot toward the rocky Italian coast at 6 nautical miles per hour. When it entered Italian search and rescue waters, the coast guard sent helicopters with six men, who boarded the ship and took control.

The course of the vessel was reversed to avoid a collision with the rocks, and it was piloted instead to Gallipoli, in Italy's southern Puglia region.

The coast guard said a collision would not only have led to the deaths of passengers, but would also have created an environmental disaster.

The freighter sent a distress signal near the Greek island of Corfu on Tuesday, alerting Italian and Greek authorities to the situation on board.

The Greek Merchant Marine Ministry and the Greek Navy have said the pilot of a Greek helicopter that flew over the cargo ship spoke with the captain, who said the ship was not in distress and did not need assistance.

Floriana Segreto, a spokeswoman for the Italian coast guard in Rome, said there were no deaths related to the Blue Sky M incident. She added that about 100 people have been hospitalized, mainly because of the cold and exhaustion.

It has not been confirmed where the migrants will now go.

The authorities will investigate what happened to the crew and how the freighter reached Italy's waters.


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