Tuesday, a European military aircraft reports two boats in distress off the coast of Libya. The tanker tanker Elhiblu I, then comes to the rescue of 108 migrants, including 12 children and 19 women. But as the ship headed for Tripoli, the ship flying under a flag of Palau suddenly turned around and headed north.
The situation is blurred, but the crew seems forced by the migrants not to approach the Libyan coast and sail to Malta. Italy's Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, takes the lead and ensures that migrants will not put a foot on Italian soil: "They are not shipwrecked, but pirates, so tell them that they will see Italy with their telescopes."
SonNo sono naufraghi my pirati, sappiano che l'Italia the vedranno col cannocchiale.https: //t.co/ZuKY3czLmv
– Matteo Salvini (@matteosalvinimi) March 27, 2019
The diversion of the ship is confirmed when the Maltese Navy manages to make contact Wednesday with the captain of the ship, while the boat approaches the coast of Malta. In a press release, the Navy explains that "The captain repeated several times that he no longer had control of the ship and that he and his crew were forced and threatened by a number of migrants demanding that they make their way to Malta".
The mobilized Maltese army
In the night, the Maltese Navy then puts an operation in place to regain control of the tanker. A patrol boat prevents the boat from entering the country's territorial waters while Special Forces men, supported by several naval ships and a helicopter, break in and take over the situation.
📝PRESS RELEASE: #Malta 🇲🇹 @Armed_Forces_MT Special Operations Unit boarded Tanker # ELHIBRU1. Captain and crew are being forced and threatened by a number of migrants to proceed to Malta. Tanker, crew & migrants escorted to Malta by @Armed_Forces_MT to be handed over to Police. pic.twitter.com/6BVFnb7uPB
– Government of Malta 🇲🇹 (@MaltaGov) March 28, 2019
The ship is then escorted by the navy to the port of Valletta, where it docks around 8:30 this Thursday. According to the Times five men were reported to have left the boat handcuffed and escorted by the police. The crew and all the refugees will soon be heard by the authorities to clarify the situation. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced in a tweet that Malta "will not seek to defy his responsibilities, despite his size. The country will follow international laws appropriately. "
– Joseph Muscat (@JosephMuscat_JM) March 28, 2019
Commercial vessels circulating near the Libyan coast are regularly requisitioned to rescue boats of migrants in distress. But for some time now, Tripoli has been coordinating the actions and ordering the ships to accompany the migrants to Libya. A return that migrants try to avoid at all costs. On several occasions, some refused to get off the boat once back on Libyan land.
Last November, security forces used rubber bullets to disembark the 77 migrants from a commercial boat, leaving eight wounded. Use of force and violation of international law repeated and denounced by the organization Doctors Without Borders.