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According to Italian and Maltese migrant authorities, a Turkish freighter was hijacked in Libyan waters on Wednesday and forced the crew to redirect the ship north to Europe, the Associated Press reported.
As the ship headed for the island of Malta and off the coast of Italy, the two countries promised to keep the vessel hijacked outside its territorial waters. Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has identified the ship as the Turkish tanker El Hiblu 1 and said the crew had previously rescued migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. He put the number of migrants on board in about 120 and described what was happening as “the first act of piracy on the high seas with migrants who hijacked” a freighter.
“Poor castaways, they kidnap a merchant ship that saved them because they want to decide the route of the cruise,” Salvini said sarcastically, according to Italian news agency ANSA.
There was no immediate word on the condition of the El Hiblu I crew. Further information on the reported abduction was not available or was difficult to confirm while the ship remained at sea.
Italian media reports said the ship was going to Libya to leave the group that was rescued when the immigrants took control six kilometers off the coast of Libya.
A private group that operates a rescue ship and monitors how governments treat migrants, the Mediterranean Saving Humans, called for compassion for the group on the hijacked vessel and said they expect European countries to act “in the name of fundamental rights, noting that we are dealing with humans fleeing from hell. “
The Armed Forces of Malta said the military was on standby and that the tanker was still in Libyan territorial waters since Wednesday night.
A Maltese military official told Maltese media that the ship was carrying 108 migrants. The official was not authorized to speak to reporters and asked for anonymity.
The official also said that Malta would not allow the ship to enter its waters.
Salvini said the weather conditions were not good and it was too early to tell whether the ship was being directed to Malta or to the Italian island of Lampedusa. But he had a message for the pirates: “Forget Italy.”
Mass migration to Europe has dropped dramatically since 2015, when the continent received one million refugees and migrants from countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Immigration created a humanitarian crisis in which desperate travelers often drowned and led arrival points, such as Italy and Greece, struggling to house a large number of asylum seekers.
Source: Voz da Turquia