Three teenage migrants charged in Malta for hijacking oil tanker

Three teenage migrants could face up to 30-years in prison after being accused of hijacking a merchant ship.Seizing control of the ship and keeping the crew under duress is considered a terrorist offence under Maltese law, which means the group could face lengthy prison sentences if found guilty.

During the arraignment in Valetta, one of the accused was identified as Abdalla Bari, a 19-year-old from Guinea.

The other two, a 15-year-old from Guinea and a 16-year-old from Ivory Coast, could not be named as they are minors.

One of the three migrants accused of hijacking a ship is escorted out of a courthouse in Valletta Credit: Stringer/AP

The suspects, who pleaded not guilty, are suspected of hijacking the El Hiblu 1 merchant oil tanker in the Mediterranean this week.

The captain of the ship said the migrants began to riot and threatened violence when they saw the ship was returning them to Libya, and they demanded it be turned north towards Europe.

Maltese armed forces managed to take control of the ship. Credit: AP

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech denied a bail request, noting that civilian witnesses had yet to give evidence, including the captain and crew, and that the accused had no ties in Malta or means of paying bail.

The minors told the court they are secondary school students, while the 19-year-old said he had been studying sociology before leaving his country.

The three suspects have pleaded not guilty Credit: Stringer/AP

Under Maltese law, unlawfully seizing control of ship can be considered a terrorist activity and is punishable by anything between seven and 30 years in prison.

The ship was heading from Turkey to Libya when it was asked on Tuesday to divert its course to rescue nearly 100 migrants in distress, which it did, before continuing on its course.

When the migrants realised on Wednesday that they were heading back to lawless Libya, which they had just left, some revolted, commandeering the ship and forcing it to head to Europe.

The temporary hijacking was described by Italy’s hardline interior minister as an act of piracy.

Some aid groups called it an act of self-defence against Europe’s immigration policies, which aim to ship desperate migrants back to Libya, where they often face beatings, rape and torture in detention camps.