El Hiblu migrants told police they would rather die than return to Libya, court hears

The three teenagers had been rescued by a merchant vessel and forced its crew to change course for Malta when they found out they were being taken back to Libya

The merchant vessel El Hiblu 1 berthed in Malta after it was stormed by a special unit of the Armed Forces of Malta
The merchant vessel El Hiblu 1 berthed in Malta after it was stormed by a special unit of the Armed Forces of Malta

Three teenagers who have been accused of an act of terrorism when they “hijacked” a merchant vessel and forced it to change course to Malta had told the police that they “would rather die in the Mediterranean than go back to Libya”.

The youths, aged 15, 16, and 19, are being charged with terrorism and hijacking a merchant vessel that had rescued them back in March. The accused, along with some 100 migrants who were attempting to flee Libya were rescued by the vessel in the North African country's search and rescue region.

The migrants onboard were initially and allegedly informed that they would be taken to Europe, however the vessel set course for Libya. Upon finding out that they would be returned to Libya, the migrants allegedly used tools to threaten the ship’s crew and force it to change course for Malta.

The ship was eventually boarded by the Armed Forces of Malta’s Special Operations Unit and escorted to Malta.

They are alleged to have banged the tools against the ship’s side.

The tools used were submitted in court on Thursday.

Police inspector Crista Armeni said that some of these tools might have been thrown overboard. She added that while the El Hiblu had been recently refurbished, the tools the migrants used had left marks on the gunwale. 

“How can you say that those marks were made by the tools?” defence lawyer Cedric Mifsud asked.

While Armeni said that she could not confirm and that she had not brought any photos of the damage to the ship, she recounted how she had seen rust marks on all sides of the ship.

Mifsud also informed the court that while a request for bail had been filed, the prison authorities had continuously shown resistance to lawyers meeting their clients with “much-needed” interpreters. 

The defence argued that prison authorities have often been wary of interpreters and asking whether they could possibly be acting as journalists. 

The Office of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights had previously called on Malta to reconsider the terrorism charges on the three teenagers, saying such a charge was extravagant. 

The case has been adjourned to 24 October.

Lawers Cedric Mifsud, Neil Falzon and Gianluca Cappitta appeared for the three migrant youths.

READ MORE: Merchant ship hijacked by migrants heading towards Malta

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