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Helicopters check migrant ship


The ship is believed to be carrying about 600 migrants. (AP)

The ship is believed to be carrying about 600 migrants. (AP)

The ship is believed to be carrying about 600 migrants. (AP)

Italian authorities have sent two helicopters to meet a cargo ship believed to be carrying hundreds of migrants after a passenger sent a distress call earlier in the day when the ship was off Greece.

Air force spokesman Captain Stefano Testa said the Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M ship was about 20 miles off Santa Maria di Leuca, on the southern-most tip of Italy.

Port officials in Bari said the teams were landing on the ship as a precaution to see if there were any problems on board and ensure the situation was under control.

Greek authorities had scrambled a navy frigate and helicopter after a passenger called emergency services when the ship was near Corfu. The ship continued on its own towards Italy.

The passenger's phone call reportedly said: "We are without water, food and blankets."

A coastguard official said the Greek frigate had contacted the cargo ship's captain, who said the ship was not in any danger and was not requesting assistance.

Tens of thousands of migrants and refugees, most fleeing conflict or poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, attempt to reach the European Union each year, with many making the perilous crossing by sea to Italy or Greece.

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On Sunday, Greek passenger ferry Norman Atlantic caught fire in the same area, leading to a massive two-day rescue operation by Italian and Greek coastguard and military officials.

The Greek frigate had been in the area assisting in the Norman Atlantic rescue operation.

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