The Latest: Tanker owner: Libya asked us to rescue migrants
VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — The Latest on a ship seized by migrants in the Mediterranean (all times local):
Salah al-Hiblu, the owner of a tanker that was temporarily hijacked by migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, says his brother, the tanker’s captain, was asked to rescue the migrants by the Libyan coast guard.
Speaking Thursday from Tripoli, the Libyan capital, he said the tanker was coming in empty from Turkey and heading to Tripoli.
He received a call Wednesday from the Libyan coast guard asking him to contact his brother Nader to save migrants who were in trouble in the Mediterranean. He called his brother, who then rescued 108 migrants.
Al-Hiblu said the tanker kept heading to Tripoli when the migrants “used force” against his brother and told him either to go to Italy or Malta. He says “the migrants told him we are not leaving or going back to Libya. We already left Libya to go to Europe.”
Italy and Malta refused at first to let the tanker dock in their ports. But a special operations team from Malta boarded the tanker on Thursday, took it back under control, and escorted it to a Maltese port.
The German humanitarian group Sea-Eye is refuting that migrants pirated a tanker based on communications its rescue vessels in the Mediterranean monitored.
Sea-Eye said Thursday it heard a European naval aircraft ask the tanker to respond to two rubber boats, which reported that the people onboard were “in mortal danger” and that the Libyan Coast Guard was “out of service.”
The tanker’s captain rescued more than 100 people and reported to the aircraft that they “are very upset and do not want to be brought back to Libya.” However, the captain said that the capital Tripoli was the ship’s destination.
Italy’s interior minister has called the migrants “pirates.” Sea-Eye spokeswoman Carlotta Weibl said that they don’t have exact information of what happened onboard the ship, but that “we don’t see it as piracy because those people were claiming their right. It was completely illegal for a European plan to send them back to Libya.”
Italy’s hard-line interior minister has called migrants who temporarily took over a cargo ship “pirates” but aid groups reject that label, saying that the European Union’s policy of sending migrants back to lawless Libya is to blame.
A Maltese special operations team boarded a tanker Thursday that had been hijacked by migrants rescued at sea and recaptured control of it before escorting it to a Maltese port. Five migrants have been arrested and an investigation into the incident has been opened.
The aid group Sea Watch said the migrants’ actions “were in self-defense against the deadly consequences forced upon them by Europe’s inhumane border policy.”
It and other aid groups say that migrants returned to Libya have been repeatedly mistreated, raped and tortured. They have urged EU nations to change their policies on sea rescues.
Italy’s interior minister has praised Maltese armed forces for intercepting a ship that had been hijacked by migrants to avoid being returned to Libya.
Matteo Salvini on Thursday said that “immigration is managed by criminals and should be blocked by any legal means necessary.”
Salvini had called the incident “the first act of piracy on the high seas with migrants,” adding they would not be allowed to land in Italy even as the tanker head north toward Malta and Italy.
Humanitarian groups cautioned against the characterization, saying the migrants were acting in self-defense to avoid being returned to lawless Libya.
Maltese armed forces returned control of the tanker to the captain who then sailed to Malta under military escort. Four migrants were taken off the tanker in handcuffs.
Four migrants have been handcuffed and escorted off an oil tanker that was hijacked at sea, after Maltese special forces restored control of the captain.
The El Hiblu 1 arrived in Malta Thursday morning under armed forces escort with more than 100 migrants on board. Images showed armed military on the deck as migrants milled about nearby. Several police vans were parked on shore waiting to take the migrants into custody. Four men who were led off in handcuffs were believed to be suspects in commandeering the vessel.
The rescued migrants were resisting being returned to Libya, where humanitarian groups say they face abuse and even torture. Italy’s interior minister called it an act of piracy. But the humanitarian group Sea Watch disputed that term, saying the actions “were in self-defense against the deadly consequences forced upon them by Europe’s inhumane border policy.”
A tanker that had been hijacked by migrants it had rescued at sea has arrived in a Maltese port after armed forces restored control to the captain.
Several military personnel with weapons could be seen on board the Turkish oil tanker El Hiblu 1 when it arrived at port in the capital, Valletta, Thursday morning. Armed forces said that the migrants would be turned over to police for investigation.
A Maltese special operations team had earlier boarded the ship, returning control to the captain, who sailed to Malta under military escort.
Authorities in Italy and Malta said that the migrants had hijacked the ship on Wednesday after it rescued them in the Mediterranean Sea, and forced the crew to put the Libya-bound vessel on a course north toward Europe.
Malta armed forces say a special operations team has seized a tanker that was hijacked by migrants and it is now heading to a Maltese port with the migrants and crew.
Malta armed forces said Thursday that control of the vessel was returned to the captain and it was being escorted and monitored to Malta, where the migrants will be handed over to police for investigation.
Authorities in Malta and Italy said the migrants had hijacked the cargo ship after it rescued them in the Mediterranean Sea and forced the crew to put the Libya-bound vessel on a course north toward Europe. The tanker had rescued about 120 people before it was taken over in what Italy’s interior minister described as “the first piracy on the high seas with migrants.”