Traffickers made some $3m from 359 illegal migrants found abandoned on a cargo ship in the Mediterranean, the Italian police said.
The Ezadeen was towed into the Italian port of Corigliano Calabro after being found by coast guards on Friday.
It is the second such case involving a freighter in a week.
Both ships reportedly started in Turkey, in a change from the Libyan route usually favoured by gangs.
The police chief of Cosenza province, Luigi Liguori, said each migrant had paid between $4,000 and $8,000 to board the ship.
Officers say that the smugglers wore hoods and locked the migrants in the ship’s hold before apparently abandoning ship on a lifeboat.
Last year it is estimated that nearly 3,500 refugees died trying to cross the Mediterranean while another 200,000 were rescued.
Italian Red Cross volunteers were on hand to offer assistance The Ezadeen, an ageing Sierra Leone-flagged ship originally used to transport cattle, was spotted on Thursday evening and arrived in port in Italy on Friday night.
In the earlier case, Italian coastguards boarded a ship, the Blue Sky M, carrying 796 migrants on Tuesday. Finding it without a crew, they steered it into the south Italian port of Gallipoli.
The smugglers’ new tactic appears to be simple and effective: point a cargo ship towards Italy and let the coastguard do the rest.
Illegal migration to the EU has been fuelled by government grants and the promise of easy money.
“Smugglers are finding new routes to Europe and are employing new methods in order to exploit desperate people,” Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU’s commissioner for migration said, promising to present a “comprehensive approach on migration”.