El Hiblu 1: Attorney General requests an independent age assessment

A Maltese special forces soldier is seen on the merchant ship Elhiblu 1 after it arrived in Senglea in Valletta's Grand Harbour, Malta, March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

The court has approved a request by the Attorney General’s office to hold an independent age assessment of two of the minors who are facing proceedings in the case of the merchant vessel El Hiblu 1 which allegedly was forcefully taken over by them.

The three accused are three teenagers two from Guinea and one from the Ivory Coast, aged 15, 16 and 19. The two minors were previously held in the adult prison, however were later transferred to the Young Persons Offenders Unit (YOURS) from the Corradino Correctional Facility, after an age assessment confirmed that they were indeed minors.

READ: El Hiblu 1: ‘Age assessment confirmed two of the accused are minors’

READ: Commissioner for Children inquires about minors in El Hiblu 1 case

READ: El Hiblu 1: Enough evidence for bill of indictment against youths – court

However the Attorney General’s office on Monday requested an independent age assessment citing doubts over the minors’ age. Magistrate Nadine Lia who is presiding over the case, appointed Dr Pierre Vella to determine the age of the three accused.

Three police officers took the witness stand on Monday, each describing their role and work when El Hiblu 1 entered Malta.

The court was presided over by Magistrate Nadine Lia.

Lawyers Gianluca Cappitta and Malcolm Mifsud appeared for the accused.

READ: Three remanded in custody over forceful takeover of El Hiblu 1

READ: Updated: Watch: 5 of the 100 migrants held by Police

READ: Two teens charged in El Hiblu 1 case held at Paola prison; ‘Special protection needs totally ignored’ – lawyers

READ: “El Hiblu 1 incident very much the result of European border policies”

READ: El Hiblu 1: Existing case law – An interview with Valentin Schatz (Part 2)

09:45 Case adjourned for 5 August at 9 am.

09:40 The court has appointed Dr Pierre Vella who is a bone expert to determine the age of the three accused. The request came from the Attorney General’s office as they are doubting the age determined by the experts from AWAS and would like to verify the age of the two minors independently. Defence lawyer Malcolm Mifsud asked why such a request was being made, with the official from the AG office saying that they are doubting the age of the two boys who were confirmed as minors.

09:31 Police Inspector Hubert Gerada told the court that the Immigration police were informed about the case about 6am. He recounted how the vessel was escorted by P21 and P51, to Boiler’s Wharf.

He told the court that chief engineer indicated five individuals who disrupted the journey.

Inspector Gerada told the court that when he questioned the captain, the captain had told him that the merchant vessel encountered asylum seekers on a boat that were helped on to the merchant vessel. He continued explaining that the captain had told him that they continued to Libya, however when the migrants realised that they were close to Libya, the migrants started shouting, and banging against the glass of the vessel. According to what the captain told the inspector, the migrants used an iron bar and clothes wrapped around their hand. Inspector Gerada told the court that the captain and two crew members were involved in the ID parade.

During the cross examination, lawyer Gianluca Capitta, asked why only three out of six crew members were involved in the identity parade, with the inspector saying that this was done because they were in the cabin. 15 individuals were shown to the three members of the crew during the ID parade.

The inquiring magistrate was present for the identification exercise.

Cross examination has been reserved until the statement of the captain is exhibited in the proceedings.

The police inspector told the court that he did not witness any violence, nor did he observe any weapons which were allegedly used.

09:20 A police superintendent from the Immigration unit Louise Calleja took the witness stand next. Calleja told the court that on the 28 March the police were informed by the Armed Forces of Malta of “hijacked” ship. She explained that together with the Terrorism unit went on board the vessel when El Hiblu 1 came in.

Duty magistrate Monica Vella was also presented on site.

Later on that day, the migrants came down, and the normal procedure applied to the disembarkation of irregular migrants.

She stressed that she was not involved in any statements or interviews, but assisted in finding interpreters.

During the cross examination, Dr Gianluca Capitta asked if she felt threatened, Calleja said that she was not directly involved.

When she was asked if when the information was received, was she given any hints of violence, Calleja said  “it was taken over … by means. .. when we were there we wanted to know how”. Asked about presence of weapons, she reiterated that she was not directly involved.

09:00 The compilation of evidence continued on Monday morning against three youths in the alleged hijack of the merchant vessel El Hiblu 1. The first to take the stand on Monday, was a police constable who explained his involvement in the case.

Read more:

“Please, please we cannot go back” – El Hiblu 1 hearing

Għada mistenni jixhed il-Kaptan ta’ El Hiblu 1