Teenage African migrants charged with hijacking tanker after sea rescue

One of the three migrants accused of hijacking a vessel is escorted out of a couthouse in Valletta Malta on Saturday

One of the three migrants accused of hijacking a vessel is escorted out of a couthouse in Valletta Malta on Saturday

The defendants, aged 15, 16 and 19, were arrested on Thursday on board the El Hiblu 1, a Palau-flagged tanker that had diverted from its course from Turkey to Libya after being asked to rescue almost 100 migrants.

Migrants are disembarked from Turkish oil tanker El Hiblu 1, which was hijacked by migrants, in Valletta, Malta, Thursday March 28, 2019. One is also from Guinea and the other from Ivory Coast.

After the migrants went on smashing spree, el-Hiblu called a Libyan port and told them the crew was heading toward Europe because "they are going to kill me and kill us if we return".

Under Maltese law, hijacking a ship is considered an act of terrorism carrying a punishment of between seven years and life in prison.

The suspects pleaded not guilty.

The cargo ship was heading from Turkey to Libya when it was asked Tuesday to divert its course to rescue almost 100 migrants in distress, which it did, before continuing on its course.

Teenage African migrants charged with hijacking tanker after sea rescue

But on Wednesday, when those rescued realised they were headed back to the country they had just left, some revolted, commandeering the ship and forcing it to head to Europe.

The drama ended on Thursday morning, when five migrants suspected of leading the hijacking were detained by the Maltese Armed Forces as the ship docked in a Valletta port.

One of the suspects is escorted out of the couthouse in Valletta.

European Union states have been at loggerheads over migration since a spike in Mediterranean arrivals caught the bloc by surprise in 2015, stretching social and security services and fuelling support for far-right, nationalist and populist groups.

Although UN data show sea arrivals falling from more than a million in 2015 to some 140,000 past year, migration remains a major political theme in the EU, particularly ahead of the European Parliament election in May. But political tensions around migration run high in the EU, especially ahead of European Parliament election in May.

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