Malta seizes Turkish oil tanker hijacked by migrants

World | 28 Mar 2019 3:45 pm

A Maltese special operations team today boarded a tanker that had been hijacked by migrants it rescued at sea, and returned control to the captain, Malta’s armed forces said.

The tanker was being escorted to a Maltese port, where the migrants will be turned over to police for investigation, they said.

Authorities in Italy and Malta said yesterday that the migrants had hijacked the Turkish oil tanker El Hiblu 1 after it rescued them in the Mediterranean Sea, and forced the crew to put the Libya-bound vessel on a course north toward Europe.

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

The ship had been heading toward Italy’s southernmost island of Lampedusa and the island of Malta when Maltese forces intercepted it.

Maltese armed forces established communications with the captain while the ship was still 30 nautical miles off shore. The captain 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.

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.

Humanitarian organizations say that migrants are mistreated and even tortured in Libya, and have protested protocols to return migrants rescued offshore to the lawless northern African nation. Meanwhile, both Italy and Malta have refused to open their ports to humanitarian ships that rescue migrants at sea, which has created numerous standoffs as European governments haggle over which will take them in.

A private group that operates a rescue ship and monitors how governments treat migrants, Mediterranea, urged compassion for the group on the hijacked vessel and said it hoped European countries would act “in the name of fundamental rights, remembering that we are dealing with human beings fleeing hell.”-AP

 

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