VALLETTA, Malta – Three teen immigrants were charged in Malta on Saturday with seizure of control of a merchant ship and use of force and intimidation against the crew, which is considered a terrorist offense under Maltese law.
One of the accused was identified by the court under the arraignment of Valletta, the capital, as Abdalla Bari, a 19-year-old from Guinea. The other two are a 15-year-old from Guinea and a 16-year-old from Ivory Coast who could not be named as minors.
They are suspected of hijacking in the Mediterranean this week by El Hiblu 1 merchant oil tanker. The captain has said that immigrants rescued by his crew began tearing and threatening with violence when they saw the ship returning to Libya. They forced it to turn north towards Europe.
The suspects did not claim to be guilty. Farmer Donatella Frendo Dimech refused a bail request, noting that civil witnesses had not yet testified, including the captain and the crew, and that the accused had no ties in Malta or means of payment.
Minors told the court that they are high school students, while the 19-year-old said he had studied sociology before leaving his country.
According to Maltese law, illegal interference with the ship can be considered a terrorist activity and punishable by anything between seven and 30 years in prison.
The cargo ship was on its way from Turkey to Libya when it was asked Tuesday to divert the course to rescue nearly 100 migrants in distress, as it did before continuing on the track. But when the immigrants realized Wednesday, they went back to lawless Libya, which they had just left, some upset, commanded the ship and forced it to head to Europe.
The temporary hijacking was described by Italy's hard interior minister as an act of piracy. Some aid groups, however, call it self-defense against Europe's immigration policy, which aims to send back desperate immigrants to Libya, where they often face violence, rape and torture in detention camps.