Italian coast guards have saved at least 728 migrants from a cargo ship near the Greek island of Corfu after its crew apparently disappeared.

The migrants, mainly from Syria, arrived in the Gallipoli port of southeast Italy on Wednesday morning where emergency crew, Italian Red Cross workers and police were at the scene.

Italian authorities took control of the cargo ship on Tuesday after the crew disappeared and set it on a programmed route to crash into a coast, officials said.

Police and maritime authorities will investigate how the migrants, including a heavily pregnant woman, came to be hidden on the Blue Sky M as it sailed to the Croatian port of Rijeka.

Greek inspection

The ship had already passed inspection by Greek navy, but failed to detect anything suspicious.

A frigate, a Greek navy helicopter and two patrol vessels were dispatched to rescue the Moldovan-flagged ship after it issued a distress signal in Greek waters and reports emerged of gunmen on board.

But an inspection of the boat revealed "no (mechanical) problems and nothing suspicious on the boat," a spokeswoman for the port police told the AFP news agency.

Media have speculated that people traffickers abandoned the ship when authorities neared the boat as it crossed the Adriatic sea between Greece and Italy, but no official confirmation has been given.

The ship was allowed to continue its journey before it was intercepted by Italian coastguards, who suspected it had a cargo of migrants and was heading for the coast on autopilot.

Source: AFP