Malta says its navy has seized control of a tanker ship hijacked by migrants in the Mediterranean, according to a government statement.
“The Captain repeatedly stated that 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. AFM Patrol Vessel P21 stopped the tanker from entering the Maltese territorial waters,” a Maltese government statement said.
Maltese authorities established contact with the ship’s captain when the tanker was about 30 nautical miles off the coast.
A special operations unit was dispatched to board and secure the vessel.
The tanker, with crew and migrants onboard, was escorted to Boiler Wharf in Valletta harbour, southeastern Malta, where police will carry out “further investigations.”
The vessel rescued 108 migrants off the coast of Libya, according to Reuters.
They hijacked the ship when the captain made clear that he would return them to the country, the news agency added.
Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister, said Wednesday that Italy would not have allowed “criminals” who had committed an act of piracy to enter its ports, according to Reuters.
NGO Sea Watch, which carries out search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, criticized Salvini’s comments in a press release.
“We must look to these 108 people with an eye of humanity and understand that any actions taken yesterday were in self-defense against the deadly consequences forced upon them by Europe’s inhumane border policy,” says Johannes Bayer, Chairman of Sea-Watch.
A recent crackdown on crossings from Libya has led to a backlog of would-be migrants.
Thousands of migrants remain in Libyan government-run detention centers, and nightmare accounts of forced labor, exploitation and inhumane conditions at the hands of the men they paid to deliver them across the Mediterranean have emerged.
“It is entirely legitimate for people found in distress at sea to reject being returned to Libya, the very place they know they will only continue to suffer the gravest of violations of their rights and the most degrading treatment,” said Bayer.