Malta armed forces seize tanker hijacked by rescued migrants

Over 100 people picked up by Libya-bound ship reportedly forced it to change course towards Europe 

Thursday 28 March 2019 09:13 GMT
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A Maltese special forces soldier guards a group of migrants on the merchant ship El Hiblu 1 after it was seized by authorities
A Maltese special forces soldier guards a group of migrants on the merchant ship El Hiblu 1 after it was seized by authorities (Reuters)

A Maltese special operations team has seized a tanker that had been hijacked by migrants it rescued at sea, armed forces said.

They returned control to the captain, who was sailing towards a Maltese port with the migrants and crew on Thursday.

Armed military personnel stood guard on the ship’s deck, and a dozen or so migrants were also visible, as the vessel docked at Boiler Wharf in the city of Senglea. Several police vans were lined up on shore to take custody of the migrants for investigation.

Authorities in Malta and Italy said the migrants had hijacked the cargo ship on Wednesday after it rescued them in the Mediterranean Sea and forced the crew to put the Libya-bound vessel on a course north towards Europe.

Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini said the Turkish oil tanker El Hiblu 1 had rescued about 120 people and described what happened with the alleged hijackers as “the first act of piracy on the high seas with migrants”.

It had been heading towards Italy’s southernmost island of Lampedusa and the island of Malta when Maltese forces intercepted it.

The captain had told Maltese armed forces he was not in control of the vessel “and that he and his crew were being forced and threatened by a number of migrants to proceed to Malta”.

A patrol vessel stopped the tanker from entering Maltese waters, they said.

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The special team that restored control to the captain was backed by a patrol vessel, two fast interceptor craft and a helicopter.

There was no immediate word on the condition of El Hiblu 1’s crew.

AP

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