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Monday, 13 December, 1999, 03:57 GMT
Migrant ship docks in Italy

Italian police take a young boy from the ship


A Bulgarian-crewed cargo ship carrying hundreds of illegal immigrants docked in Italy on Sunday after more than a week at sea.

Italian coastguards said the ship, sailing under the false name Vodelai, had sailed into the south-eastern port of Otranto, accompanied by police, coastguard and navy vessels.

The cargo ship had been cruising along the Greek coast for a week but Greek officials warned their counterparts in Italy on Friday it could soon head their way in its search for a drop-off point for the 380 migrants on board.

The ship's captain said the vessel had been hijacked in the Aegean by the migrants, said to be mainly Iraqi Kurds and Pakistanis, who wanted to sail to Italy.

But the Greek authorities expressed scepticism about his explanation, saying the captain may be trying to get rid of his passengers without risking a prosecution for people smuggling.

Lucrative trade

Greek navy helicopters dropped food and water to the migrants and the eight Bulgarian crew on Wednesday.

In an interview with Greek television, the captain pleaded to be allowed to dock. He said there were women and children aboard who needed medical attention.

Thousands of illegal migrants land on Greek and Italian shores every year.

Greece is a particular target because of the extensive coastline and many islands that make covert landings relatively easy.

Smugglers make thousands of dollars for each person they bring in and most of the migrants use Greece as a staging post to enter Western Europe

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See also:
28 Dec 97 |  World
Italy urges crackdown on immigrant smugglers
01 Jan 98 |  Europe
Kurdish refugees abandoned by ship's crew

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