"Ghost ship" trend set to continue, warns IOM

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A stranded boat filled with asylum seekers is spotted from the helicopter of a Mare Nostrum search and rescue team. UNHCR/A.D'Amato

The trend for so-called "ghost ships" taking migrants across the Mediterranean for up to $6,000 at a time shows no sign of letting up, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Joel Millman, who is Spokesman for the agency in Geneva, said that IOM staff have now spoken to migrants rescued from two smugglers' ships bound for the Italian coastline over the New Year.

He said the ending of Italy's Mare Nostrum sea rescue programme gave cause for concern because there would be fewer boats to pick up those in distress at sea.

"Obviously we look upon this with alarm, we are concerned with Mare Nostrum now ended and the migrations continuing in pretty high numbers through the winter in very dangerous conditions that this may be something we'll be seeing more of in the weeks ahead."

At a press briefing in Geneva, the IOM spokesman said smugglers were profiting from the "reliable stream" of thousands of customers fleeing Syria every month.

They could make at least $3 million per crossing, Willman added.

He said the use of larger "mother ships" started to appear late last year and that it's difficult for port authorities to control them because they often wait in open water while smaller boats deliver migrants to them.

The Moldova-flagged Blue Sky M was carrying 736 people when it came ashore on New Year's Eve in Apulia, Italy.

The Ezadeen was found to have 359 Syrian refugees including 62 children when it was towed to port in Calabria over the weekend.

The development comes after IOM director general William Lacy Swing called for "a coalition of the willing" to stop smugglers, just as an international force dealt with Somali pirates.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations

Duration:  1’42″

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