The Address | Benghazi – Libya
VALLETTA, Malta – Three teenage migrants have been charged in a court in Malta with hijacking a small commercial oil tanker that had rescued them and others off the coast of Libya, an act that is considered a terrorist crime under Maltese law.
The tanker, El Hiblu 1, was hijacked in the Mediterranean this past week. The captain said that rescued migrants had begun to riot and threaten violence when they saw that the ship was returning them to Libya. According to the captain, they forced it to turn north toward Europe.
The suspects pleaded not guilty during an arraignment in Valletta, the Maltese capital, on Saturday. One of the accused was identified by the court as Abdalla Bari, a 19-year-old from Guinea. The other two are a 15-year-old from Guinea and a 16-year-old from Ivory Coast, who could not be named because they were minors.
A magistrate, Donatella Frendo Dimech, denied a bail request, noting that civilian witnesses, including the captain and crew, had yet to testify and that the accused had no ties in Malta nor any means of paying bond.
Strategies to reduce migrants in the Mediterranean Sea may have made the journey more treacherous.
The minors told the court that they were high school students, while Mr. Bari, the 19-year-old, said that he had been studying sociology before leaving his country.
Under Maltese law, unlawfully seizing control of a ship can be considered a terrorist activity and is punishable by seven to 30 years in prison.
The tanker was heading to Libya from Turkey when it was asked on Tuesday to divert its course to rescue nearly 100 migrants in distress, which it did, before continuing on its course. But when the migrants realized on Wednesday that they were headed back to Libya, which they had just left, some apparently revolted and commandeered the ship.
The temporary hijacking was described by Italy’s hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, as piracy. Some aid groups, however, called it an act of self-defense against Europe’s immigration policies, which often result in the shipping of desperate migrants back to Libya, where they can face beatings, rape and torture in detention camps.
The New York Times