Ship of Syrians stopped en route to Italy

Ship of Syrians stopped en route to Italy
Syrians on board the Ezadeen ship, which was intercepted by Italian authorities last month. Photo: Alfonso Di Vincenzo/AFP
The Turkish coastguard intercepted in Mediterranean waters a ship carrying 333 mainly Syrian migrants bound for Europe, thought to be headed to Italy, the official Anatolia news agency said on Monday.

In an operation employing over 300 coastguard personnel, the coastguard captured the commercial vessel in open water off the Turkish port of Mersin in the northeastern Mediterranean close to Syria.

It said that the migrants – the vast majority of whom are Syrian – were taken back to Mersin after the overnight Sunday to Monday operation. Four Turks and 11 Syrians suspected of people smuggling have been detained over the incident, Anatolia added.

Mersin has in recent months become known as an increasingly important hub for Syrian migrants in search of a better life in the European Union, with people smugglers increasingly turning to larger vessels to transport them.

In this case the vessel was the 88-metre Togo-flagged commercial vessel Burcin which was raided by the authorities after the coastguard received a tip-off about migrants on board. The ship, which reportedly was bound for Italy, has been taken back to Mersin.

Reports said that the people-smugglers had transferred the migrants to the Burcin from smaller boats, one of which tried to escape and was later apprehended by the authorities.

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There has been increasing attention on the use of large ships by people traffickers after the Italian authorities intercepted two vessels crammed with migrants and abandoned by their crew in the last month.

The Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M cargo ship with 768 Syrian migrants on board was intercepted by Italian naval officers who boarded the vessel just eight kilometres before it would have run aground. It had departed from Mersin.

The Italian navy took control of the Sierra Leone-flagged vessel Ezadeen after it was left to drift in stormy seas.

Turkey, which already hosts 1.7 million Syrian refugees from the civil war, had become a key transit point for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.

According to local authorities in Mersin, 1,754 illegal migrants were apprehended at sea off the port last year.