Three teenagers charged with hijacking commercial vessel

The tanker was forced to change course and head to Malta by a group of migrants it had rescued

Migrants disembarking  from the El Hiblu upon its arrival on Thursday
Migrants disembarking from the El Hiblu upon its arrival on Thursday

Three teenagers were on Saturday morning charged with hijacking a commercial tanker and forcing it to change course to Malta.

A Turkish tanker, the El Hiblu 1 was overpowered by a group of migrants among a larger group of 100 it rescued from within Libya’s search and rescue region on Wednesday.

Among the 100 migrants aboard the ship, 38 were men, 15 women and 47 claimed to be minors.

The migrants reportedly threatened the crew and forced it to change course once they realised they would be returned to Libya where they face persecution. 

The hijacking reportedly took place when the vessel was six miles off the Libyan coast.

The three youths, aged 15, 16 and 19 appeared before duty magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech to face charges of having unlawfully seized control of the ship, which under Maltese law is punishable by a prison sentence of between seven and 30 years in prison. 

Two of the teenagers are from Guinea and a third from the Ivory Coast. All three said in court that they were students.

Bail was requested but was denied by the court, which noted that witnesses were yet to testify and also that the accused had no ties to Malta.

Omar Zammit and Christa Armeni prosecuted while Cedric Mifsud, Gianluca Cappitta and Neil Falzon were counsel to the accused.

A ban on the publication of the names of the two minors was imposed.

The commandeered ship was intercepted by Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) Patrol Vessel P21 before entering Maltese territorial waters, in the early hours of Thursday morning. 

"The Armed Forces of Malta established communications with the captain of tanker El Hibru 1 when it was about 30NM away and still proceeding towards Malta,” the AFM said.  

The AFM has also said that when establishing contact with the ship’s captain, they had been told he had no control of the ship and that he had been threatened by the group of migrants had threatened him to proceed to Malta. 

READ ALSO: Tanker overpowered by migrants who refused to go back to Libya, in Malta

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