Three teens charged in Malta over refugee ship hijacking

Maltese authorities file ‘terror’ charges against teens accused of seizing control of merchant ship that rescued them.

Authorities in Malta have charged three teenagers with committing an act of “terrorism” for their suspected role in hijacking a merchant ship that rescued them off the coast of Libya.

The teenagers, among 108 refugees and asylum seekers rescued by El Hiblu 1 earlier this week, appeared at a court in the Maltese capital, Valletta, on Saturday. 

They were accused of seizing control of the tanker and using force and intimidation against the crew to change the ship’s course to Europe. 

Under Maltese law, unlawfully taking control of a ship is punishable with prison terms of between seven and 30 years. 

The suspects pleaded not guilty and were placed in preventive detention pending trial.

The Valletta court identified one of the accused as Abdalla Bari, a 19-year-old from Guinea. The other two are a 15-year-old, also from Guinea, and a 16-year-old from Ivory Coast, who as minors could not be named.

The minors told the court they are secondary school students, while Bari said he had been studying sociology before leaving his country.


Nader el-Hiblu, the ship’s captain, said the drama began on Tuesday afternoon when his tanker was traveling from Turkey to Libya. A military aircraft flying above alerted him of a boat with people who needed help, he told The Associated Press news agency. 

He was not sure if the aircraft was Maltese or Italian. 

Once the refugees and migrants were on board, the ship continued its course towards Libya, a country where the United Nations and aid groups say refugees and asylum seekers face trafficking, kidnap, torture and rape.

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

The hijackers “were desperate and absolutely did not want to return” to Libya, el-Hiblu said. They “attacked the cockpit, heavily beating on the doors and the windows and they threatened to smash the boat”.

He called the port in Libya, informed them of the hijacking, and told them the crew was heading north towards Europe. 

A Maltese special operations unit boarded the ship a day later, arrested five men suspected of leading the hijacking. They handed control back to the captain who steered the ship to Valletta under a navy escort.   

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