LIBYA – Self described ‘refugee’ migrants who were rescued on March 27th in the Mediterranean Sea resorted to piracy and seized the merchant ship El Hiblu 1, which originally came to their aid, and then attempted to change the course in favor of the shores of Italy. After the hijackers later decided against Italy, they forced the captain on a course for Malta. As Malta Today writes today, the Maltese Navy had then established contact with the migrants-turned-pirates and continued to negotiate with them.
The ship was still in Libyan territorial waters and tracked by the Libyan coast guard when it was captured by the migrants in an act of piracy and hijacking, after the captain attempted to comply with standing provisions and return the rescued migrants back to Libya.
“The Armed Forces of Malta established contact with the captain of the tanker El-Hhiblu-1, when he was about 30 miles from the Libyan coast and continued to move towards Malta. The captain has repeatedly stated that he is not in control of the vessel and that he and his crew were forced by the migrants to go to Malta,”, said representatives of the country’s Navy.
The crew of the tanker lifted 108 illegal immigrants, who were on an unstable or sinking raft or similar, and sought to aid them for humanitarian purposes. Once aboard, the migrants demanded to be taken to Italy, but were informed by the ships captain that Italian forces would likely not take them as refugees and they would be returned to Libya. The captain is said to have informed them that they would be returned safely to Libya. It is reported that once the migrants understood that Italy was not an option, they proceeded to force entry into the captain’s quarters and the control room, taking the crew hostage, and robbing them of personal possessions and cash-on-hand.
Representatives of the Maltese state warned that they would not allow migrants to come to their country either. This mirrors the similar decision was taken by the Italian authorities. The head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the country, Matteo Salvini, said that this is not about shipwrecked migrants, but about piracy.
In the early hours of this morning, Malta’s forces engaged in a raid of the hijacked ship to retake control. This raid found success, and the migrants/pirates lost control of the ship. A Maltese patrol vessel stopped the tanker from entering Maltese waters. A special forces unit was then dispatched to board the tanker and hand over control of the ship to the captain.
The special operations unit was backed up by a patrol vessel, two fast interceptor craft and a helicopter.
The ship, its crew and all the “migrant pirates” on board were accompanied by the Maltese Navy in neutral waters. The “migrants” arrived at the Maltese coast, but were immediately arrested and transferred to the local police for further investigation of the incident, where they will possibly face charges of hijacking, assault, robbery, and related crimes.
At the same time, their amnesty pleas may nevertheless be heard, if they can establish that a return to Libya would result in likely persecution or similar human rights abuses. Legal experts believe this would qualify as a legitimating motive for their hijacking of the ship. It has been established previously that black Africans in Libya have faced persecution, abuse, and slavery in the failed-state of Libya which resulted from the NATO attack on the country which deposed then leader Moamar Gaddafi.