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By Associated Press
An oil tanker tugging in the Mediterranean by migrants was escorted to Malta Thursday after armed forces restored control to the captain.
Maltese armed military personnel guarded the ship's deck, and a dozen or so immigrants were also visible when the Turkish oil tanker El Hiblu 1 anchored in the town of Senglea.
Several police vans were landed on land to take custody of the migrants for investigation, and four immigrants were led by the ship in handcuffs.
The authorities in Italy and Malta on Wednesday said the group had hijacked the ship after it rescued them in the Mediterranean and forced the crew to put the Libyan bound vessel on a course north towards Europe.
The Interior Minister of Italy Matteo Salvini said the ship had rescued 120 people and described what happened as "the first act of piracy on the high seas with immigrants" as the alleged hijackers. Malta has rescued the number of immigrants to 108.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Twitter that the country's armed forces had performed a "delicate open sea operation".
"We do not push responsibility despite our size," he said and promised to follow international rules.
The ship was heading for Italy's southernmost island of Lampedusa and the island of Malta, when Maltese forces resigned it.
Maltese armed forces established communication with the captain while the ship was still 30 miles from the coast. The captain said he was not in control of the vessel "and that he and his crew were forced and threatened by a number of immigrants to move on to Malta" armed forces said. No details were given about the power and threats used.
The special team that restored control to the captain was supported by a patrol ship, two fast interceptor vessels and a helicopter.
There was no immediate word on condition of El Hiblu's crew.
Humanitarian organizations say immigrants are being abused and even tortured in Libya and have protested protocol to return migrants rescued offshore to the lawless North African nation. Meanwhile, both Italy and Malta have refused to open their ports to humanitarian ships that save sea immigrants, which has created many redundancies that European governments dispute over who will take them.
While Italy's Interior Minister calls the hijacking an act of piracy, the Sea Watch humanitarian group has contested this expression and said the actions "were in self-defense against the deadly consequences imposed on them by Europe's inhuman border policy."