Three migrants charged with terrorist activity in ship hijacking
March 30 2019 01:35 PM
A Maltese special forces soldier guards a group of migrants on the merchant ship Elhiblu 1 after it
A Maltese special forces soldier guards a group of migrants on the merchant ship Elhiblu 1 after it


Three migrants appeared in a Maltese court on Saturday charged with terrorist activity after hijacking a merchant vessel and re-routing it to the Mediterranean island.

The accused - three teenagers aged 15, 16 and 19 - appeared in court in the capital Valletta to face charges connected to the seizure of the El Hiblu 1 vessel on Wednesday.

They were among a group of 108 migrants rescued by the vessel just six miles off Libya. But learning that they were going to be taken back to Tripoli, the desperate migrants panicked and forced the captain to head towards Malta.

The Armed Forces of Malta special operations unit later took over the vessel some 30 miles from the Mediterranean island.

The three men were accused on Saturday of having seized control of the ship through the use or threat of force and intimidation. They pleaded not guilty to the charge and requested bail.

Under Maltese law, unlawfully seizing control of ship is considered an act of terrorism and is punishable by anything between seven years and life in prison.

The Maltese magistrate denied the bail request, noting that civilian witnesses had yet to testify and that the accused had no ties or means of paying a bail bond.

The rest of the migrants, all western Africans, are in a reception centre where their claim for asylum is being considered.

Meanwhile, Times of Malta reported on Saturday that the police have expressed doubts about the captain's version of events saying they could not rule out that he had claimed he was not in control of the vessel so as to be granted permission to enter Malta.

Sources told dpa that the rescued migrants aboard had threatened to jump off unless the vessel changed course and turned towards Malta.

The incident happened as the EU empowered the Libyan coast guard to control migration flows. Humanitarian organizations say the Libyans are untrained and ill-equipped to deal with the task.

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