The captain of an empty merchant ship returning to Libya was instructed by the owner of the ship, who had been directed by Libyan naval guards, to rescue migrants sailing away from Libya. There were 100 migrants, including 15 women and 47 claiming to be minors. The captain reported that the migrants were unarmed, but did outnumber his crew, and used force to turn the ship toward Italy or Malta. Malta took possession of the ship and arrested some of the migrants. The fact that the migrants made it to European soil makes it unlikely that they will be sent back to Libya.
Italy refused the migrants. Due to the anti-illegal immigration policies of Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, migrant arrivals in Italy were down dramatically last year to 23,370 from nearly 120,000 a year earlier. Deaths at sea also sank to the lowest levels in five years, 2,299, according to the International Organization for Migration.
VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — A group of migrants desperate not to go back
to Libya made it safely to Europe on Thursday after commandeering the
oil tanker that rescued them at sea — a drama that underlined
contradictions in Europe’s migration policies and could discourage
Both Italy and Malta initially refused entry to
the Palau-flagged El Hiblu 1. But Maltese armed forces intercepted it
overnight after confirming with the captain that he was navigating
toward Europe against his will. Special forces boarded it and restored
control to the crew.
The 100 migrants, including 15 women and 47
claiming to be minors, left the tanker in a port near the Maltese
capital of Valletta; five were handcuffed after being detained on
suspicion of being the ringleaders.
Italy’s hard-line interior
minister called the hijacking the “the first act of piracy on the high
seas with migrants.” But humanitarian groups rejected that label, saying
they were victims of “Europe’s inhumane border policy,” citing reports that many migrants have been mistreated, raped and tortured in Libya.
The German humanitarian group Sea-Eye said its rescue ship, the Alan Kurdi, was in the area of the El Hiblu 1 when it heard radio communications between the tanker and a European aircraft monitoring the seas.
The aircraft asked the tanker to respond to two rubber boats, saying
that the people on board were “in mortal danger” and that the Libyan
coast guard was “out of service.” After the rescue, the captain reported
to the aircraft that the migrants “are very upset and do not want to be
brought back to Libya.” However, the captain said the Libyan capital of
Tripoli was the tanker’s destination.
Carlotta Weibl said that they don’t have exact information of what
happened aboard the El Hiblu 1, but that “we don’t see it as piracy
because those people were claiming their right. It was completely
illegal for a European plane to send them back to Libya.”
have long reported that commercial ships either ignore smugglers’ boats
in distress, or merely stop to give them water, said Hassiba
Hadj-Sahraoui, humanitarian affairs adviser with Doctors Without
Borders. Similar incidents could accelerate the trend.
doomed whatever they do,” she said. “This is extremely disturbing for
commercial ships. The shipping industry is trying to follow a tenant of
international law, which is rescue. … But if you are a commercial ship
on tight deadlines and you need to deliver goods, it is an impossible
The International Chamber of Shipping based in London
expressed concern about the incident and said it would raise the issue
with the U.N. International Maritime Organization.
“If a ship is
directed to disembark rescued people in Libya, it creates a potential
for conflict between the crew and desperate and frustrated people that
might object to being returned,” ICS secretary-general Guy Platten said
in a statement. He added that civilian merchant seafarers “can be
severely affected by the traumatic situations they have to face, having
complied with their legal and humanitarian obligation to come to the
rescue of anyone found in distress at sea.”
The European Union has
been training the Libyan coast guard in the hope that it will prevent
migrants from entering international waters, where they have routinely
been rescued, either by commercial ships or those run by humanitarian
groups filling in the void after member countries significantly scaled
down an EU operation in the Mediterranean.
But the contradiction
lies in the fact that no EU member considers Libya, or any other
northern African country, to be a “safe third country” where migrants
can be returned without fear for their well-being. The EU also opposes
the death penalty, and in extradition cases generally refuses to send
people to countries where they might be killed or tortured.
Brook, the acting representative for the U.N. refugee agency in Libya,
told reporters in Geneva that the conditions for many migrants in
government-run detention centers in Libya were “terrible.” He relayed an
anecdote from some migrants that electric shocks were administered to
them in vats of water.
While Europe is reducing its own rescue
mission, Italy and Malta have refused to accept aid group rescue ships
in their ports. That has led to offshore standoffs with boats loaded
with migrants, often weak from their journey and mistreatment in Libya,
while EU nations haggle over their fate.
Read full article here…