Five Libyan men hijacked a good Samaritan oil tanker after the vessel rescued them and dozens of others in the Mediterranean Sea. The incident began on Tuesday when the El Hiblu 1, a 170-foot Palau-flagged bunkering tanker, responded to a request from a Libyan Coast Guard aircraft that had detected two small rubber rafts in distress north of the Libyan coast. After the El Hiblu 1 rescued the approximately 100 souls, it was discovered that the people on board the boats were migrants from Libya hoping to make it to Europe.
However, the El Hiblu 1’s next port of call was Tripoli—back in Libya—and when the master of the tanker told the migrants they were being returned to Libya at the request of the Libyan Coast Guard, the migrants became agitated. According to a report from the Associated Press (AP), at some point, at least five of the migrants attacked the 12-man crew of the EL Hiblu 1 and hijacked the vessel. The migrants turned the El Hiblu 1 north toward Europe.
“The captain repeatedly stated that he was not in control of the vessel and that he and his crew were being forced and threatened by a number of migrants to proceed to Malta,” said a spokesperson for Maltese authorities.
The hijacking finally ended in the early hours of Thursday morning when several Maltese soldiers stormed the vessel and arrested the hijackers. According to a report from The Telegraph, the raid utilized Maltese “naval vessels and aircraft,” and was conducted by members of Malta’s special forces unit, most likely from C Company of the Maltese Army’s First Regiment.
After the Thursday morning raid, the El Hiblu 1 docked in the Port of Valletta in Malta, according to CNN. The five “ringleaders” of the hijacking were seen being escorted off the vessel in flex cuffs. The incident highlights the delicate political situation in the region, which has seen thousands of migrants fleeing the abusive Libyan government and seeking refuge in Europe. Italy’s prime minister quickly denounced the hijacking and claimed he would not have allowed the hijackers to bring the ship to Italy.
However, according to CNN, Johannes Bayer, the chairman of Sea-Watch e.V. (a non-profit organization that conducts civil search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean) called for sympathy for the hijackers. “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.”