Italy’s sea curse continues: 19 rescued after ship runs aground off Sicily

An Italian cargo ship ran aground in high winds and seas off Sicily on Saturday, the coastguard said, adding that the 19 crew were taken off by helicopter amid worsening weather.

The 150-metre Gelso M was driven on to rocks near Syracuse and began letting in water, and the captain ordered it to be abandoned, the coastguard said in a statement.

Coastguard spokesman Cosimo Nicastro said four helicopters had airlifted the crew to safety and all were in good health.

The ship, a tanker, was carrying no cargo at the time of the incident, and its double hull meant there was a low risk of pollution but the environment ministry was alerted nonetheless.

The position of the ship made it impossible for surface craft to approach and the coastguard called for more aerial assistance from the navy and the air force. Rescue service sources suggested that given the conditions the captain had been sailing too close to the coast.

The accident happened some eight weeks after the 290-metre cruise ship Costa Concordia crashed into rocks off the island of Giglio on Italy's west coast and capsized with the loss of 32 lives.

Coastguard commander Filippo Marini said a tug had been dispatched to see if it was possible to pull the Gelso M off the reefs and tow it to a port.

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