Almost 1,000 illegal immigrants landed in Italy yesterday after threatening to throw babies into the sea if their rusting ship was turned back.
The 240ft Monica had been spotted in international waters during the night.
When Italian coastguard boats drew alongside, the crews were shocked to see men and women on board begin dangling the infants over the side.
The refugees – mostly Kurds and many said to be heading for Britain – calmed down only when they were assured they would not be turned away from Italy.
The ship was towed to the Sicilian port of Catania, where 400 men, 200 women and 361 children were taken to Red Cross shelters.
A 21-year-old woman had earlier been lifted off by helicopter after giving birth to a girl. They were doing well in hospital last night.