Maltese armed forces take control of hijacked tanker

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Migrant ship capture: Maltese armed forces take control of hijacked tanker

Malta’s armed forces have taken control of a tanker that was allegedly seized by migrants off Libya on Wednesday.

The tanker, Elhiblu 1, has docked in the Maltese capital Valletta.

More than 100 migrants on board are expected to be handed over to police.

The migrants had been rescued by the ship but reportedly hijacked it after being told they would be returned to Libya.

They are said to have told the captain to head north towards Europe instead.

In a statement, the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) said “they had established communications with the captain of the ship when it was still proceeding towards Malta.”

The captain said ”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 territorial waters, and a special operations unit team was dispatched to board and secure the vessel,” the AFM said in a statement.

The team was backed up by several naval vessels and a helicopter.

“The ship has now been handed over to the police for further investigations.” the AFM said.

Joseph Muscat, Malta’s Prime Minister,  has said “all international rules will be followed as police investigate the incident on the vessel.”

Reports says, It is not clear what will now happen to the migrants, but they’ve reached the destination they wanted.

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister,  had earlier called the migrants “pirates” and said they would not be allowed to dock in Italy.

Matteo Salvini, described the act as “the first piracy on the high seas with migrants.”

Ending Navy patrols
The incident comes as the EU says ”it is ending navy patrols in the Mediterranean.”

The EU says the decision to suspend Operation Sophia in September follows a request by Italy.

The mission was put in place four years ago to deter people smugglers and rescue migrants trying to reach Europe by boat. Tens of thousands have been saved.

Lately, the mission has largely targeted smuggling networks as the number of people making the crossing dropped sharply following a controversial deal between the EU and Libya.

But Mr Salvini, the leader of the right-wing League party, has blamed Operation Sophia for continuing to bring rescued migrants to Italian shores.

He has been at the centre of a number of international rows over his refusal to allow migrant ships to dock in Italian ports.

Migrant arrivals from North Africa and the Middle East have fallen since reaching a peak in 2015.

An estimated 150,000 illegal crossings were registered by Frontex, the European Border and Coastguard Agency, last year, the lowest amount since 2013.

 

BBC/Africa/Olusola Akintonde