World Bulletin/News Desk
The mainly Syrian migrants were bundled off the Blue Sky M when it arrived in Italy in the early hours of the morning after it was first spotted near the coast of Corfu.
Italian officials were airlifted onto the Blue Sky M after it left Greek waters to check it could navigate safely. The coastguard said there were 970 people on board when the ship arrived at the small port city of Gallipoli.
Emergency workers hurried the migrants out of the freezing cold into a hospital tent and onto coaches when they arrived. After an erroneous Red Cross report of four deaths earlier, officials said no one was known to have died.
Greek state television reported on Tuesday that the alarm had been raised because armed men were on board, but the defence and shipping ministries did not confirm this.
"The ship was abandoned by its crew in open water," Red Cross spokeswoman Mimma Antonagi said. "If (Italian officers) had not gone on board, it would have crashed into the coast."
Local prosecutors have impounded the Blue Sky M as part of an investigation into the incident and arrested a Moldovan man who arrived on the ship and was identified by the migrants as one of the people smugglers arranging their passage, a judicial source said.
Italy is due to close its Mare Nostrum maritime search and rescue mission definitively at the end of December, partly due to popular concern over the 114 million euro ($138.25 million) bill the mission racked up in its first year.
Civil war in Syria and anarchy in Libya have swelled the number of people crossing the Mediterannean in rickety boats this year, often bound for Italy and Greece.
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.
The incident comes two days after an Italian ferry with 478 passengers on board caught fire between Greece and Italy and prompted a two-day rescue operation, where 11 people lost their lives.Güncelleme Tarihi: 31 Aralık 2014, 17:17