In a worrying turn of events, a group of over 100 migrants hijacked the Elhiblu 1 – a Turkish registered commercial tanker, after it rescued them off Libya’s coast and ordered the crew to head towards a non-Libyan port.
The 100 migrants took over control of the ship and directed it to take them to a non-Libyan port as they feared human rights abuses if they were to return to Misrata, Libya.
Both Malta and Italy denied the tanker access to their ports with Malta’s Military saying the shop would not be allowed into its waters, and Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini “Tweeting” about the hijackers “They are not shipwrecked but pirates, they will only see Italy through a telescope.”
However, a Maltese special operations team boarded the Elhiblu 1 on Wednesday night and took back control of the hijacked ship and bought the vessel safely into the Mal port of Valletta. Of the 108 migrants, Police arrested 5 suspects and allowed the remainder to disembark.
In a statement prior to Maltese intervention, the Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), Guy Platten said “If a ship is directed to disembark rescued people in Libya, it creates a potential for conflict between the crew and desperate and frustrated people that might object to being returned. Given the numbers picked up in such large scale rescue operations, the crew of the rescuing ship can easily be outnumbered and overwhelmed. Masters of merchant ships should expect that coastal states’ search and rescue authorities will coordinate and provide for disembarkation in a place of safety, both for those rescued and for the seafarers involved in the rescue.”
“The merchant seafarers on board the ship involved in these incidents are civilians,” Patten said. “They can be severely affected by the traumatic situations they have to face, having complied with their legal and humanitarian obligation to come to the rescue of anyone found in distress at sea.”
The UN has determined that Libya is not a place of safety for disembarkation, and has documented widespread patterns of abuse in Libyan migrant detention facilities.