A merchant ship that was hijacked by migrants it had rescued off the Libya coast has arrived at a port in Malta, Maltese officials told ABC News Thursday morning.
The cargo ship, El Hiblu 1, rescued 108 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, 6 miles off the Libyan coast, on Wednesday. But the migrants suddenly suddenly seized the ship and forced the captain to change course toward Europe after realizing they were being taken back to Libya.
The tanker was secured Thursday by the Armed Forces of Malta, which brought the migrants to the safe port of Valletta. According to Maltese authorities, 77 of the ship’s 108 rescued passengers were men, another 19 were women and 12 were children.
“All the migrants were turned over to immigration police for further investigation,” Kay Gelfo, a spokeswoman for Malta Armed Forces, told ABC News.
Migrants in Libya face trafficking, kidnap, torture and rape, according to the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
“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,” said Johannes Bayer, chairman of rescue NGO Sea-Watch.
According to an Amnesty International report from February, “Thousands of Libyan families remained internally displaced. Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants suffered serious human rights violations and abuses, including rape and extortion, at the hands of state officials, militias and smugglers.”
Hundreds of thousands of people — from such countries as Libya, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Egypt and Tunisia — have fled through Libya across the Mediterranean and thousands have drowned since the downfall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, according to a 2017 report by Altai Consulting in conjunction with the U.N. Refugee Agency and IMPACT Initiatives.
After stopping EU rescues and banishing NGO rescue ships from the Mediterranean, commercial vessels are now being forced to return rescued migrants to Libya.