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28 Mar, 2019 07:50

Maltese troops storm merchant ship hijacked by migrants off Libyan coast (VIDEO)

Maltese troops storm merchant ship hijacked by migrants off Libyan coast (VIDEO)

Malta deployed patrol boats and a helicopter to capture a migrant-packed Turkish tanker after it was hijacked by asylum seekers rescued by the crew near Libyan shores.

The hijacked ship was seized by the Maltese special operations unit on Thursday morning. It was escorted to Malta’s capital, Valletta where all the migrants are due to be handed over to the police. Several patrol boats and a helicopter participated in the operation to intercept and capture the vessel.

The migrants hijacked the Palau-flagged Turkish tanker ‘El Hiblu 1’ around 5pm local time on Wednesday after its crew had rescued them off the coast of Libya. The ship was then making its way to the Libyan port of Tripoli, apparently aiming to drop the migrants off there, but suddenly turned around just six nautical miles (11 km) from the shore and headed north, towards Malta.

The Maltese authorities confirmed the hijacking and put the nation’s armed forces on standby to confront “the pirated ship.”

There are believed to be 108 migrants on board, around 77 of which are adult men, the Times of Malta reported, citing government sources. Other reports suggested that the number of migrants may be as high as 120. It is unclear how many asylum seekers participated in the hijacking.

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Malta wasn’t the only Mediterranean nation to put its forces on alert. Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said that Rome was prepared to intercept the tanker if it sailed to the island of Lampedusa or the country’s mainland.

He reiterated that nation’s ports remain closed to the ship just like they have been to NGO rescue vessels.

“I’m telling the pirates: forget about Italy,” Salvini stated in a live video on Facebook.

These are not migrants in distress. They are pirates. They will only see Italy through a telescope.

Meanwhile, the migrant-rescue NGO ‘Mediterranea Saving Humans’ had earlier appealed to everyone not to return the asylum seekers to Libya and to assign a “safe port” for them to disembark instead.

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