Hijacked migrant ship docks in Malta

VALLETTA – Maltese armed forces boarded the Turkish ship hijacked Wednesday by migrants, returning control to the captain and escorting the vessel to the port of the Maltese capital, Italian media reported on Thursday.

 At least four men were arrested – their wrists tied with plastic straps – and loaded into the back of a gray police van. Others migrants disembarked freely, boarding small buses.

 Maltese authorities established contact with the captain of the merchant ship El Hiblu 1 when it was around 30 nautical miles from the coast. 

 The captain repeatedly stated he did not have control of the ship and that he and his crew had been threatened and forced by a number of migrants to proceed to Malta.

 A special operations unit, supported by patrol boats and helicopters, boarded the ship, returned control to the captain and escorted it to Valletta.

 The ship had been hijacked by the same migrants it had rescued, while it was heading towards Libya.

 “Poor shipwrecked passengers who hijack the merchant ship that saved them because they want to decide the route of the cruise,” Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said during a live Facebook stream while showing the point on the map where the ship had been between Italy and Malta. “I say to the pirates – Forget Italy. This is the most evident demonstration that this is not a rescue operation but a criminal trafficking of human beings who even hijack a private boat. It is an act of delinquency, of organized crime. Italian waters are closed to criminals.”

 The migrants – 77 men, 19 women and 12 children – did not want to be returned to Libya where they are exposed to violence and abuse, including torture and sexual violence, Italian news agency Adnkronos reported.

 “We do not shirk responsibility despite our size,” Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted after the ship docked. 

 “Now we will follow all international rules accordingly.”

 The ship, its crew and all the migrants have been handed over to the police for investigation.