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

REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

The case regarding the alleged seizure of the merchant vessel El Hiblu 1 is being heard today in Court. The case regards three youths from Guinea, ages 15, 16 and 19, accused of forcefully taking over the merchant vessel to redirect it. Said merchant vessel had responded to a distress call, rescuing 108 aslyum seekers at sea. The accusations detail the forceful taking over, threats to cause damage and threats to harm others present.

An Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) official gave his testimony regarding the incident.

The AFM was informed of a vessel making its way to Maltese waters, at which point the AFM aircraft, KingAir, started to monitor the situation.

The captain of the vessel informed the AFM that the vessel was under attack as it was being forcibly taken over; the AFM then informed the Captain that he was not to enter Maltese waters.

El Hiblu 1 was intercepted by an AFM patrol vessel, P21, once it got closer to Malta, at which point the captain maintained: “Ok sir, but the vessel is not under my control”. Over the VHF, the voices of immigrants were heard. They were saying: “Please, please we cannot go back, we have children, three days no food, please we cannot go back”.

Given that the vessel was not under the captain’s command, and that the crew were being threatened, P21 proceeded to provide a location El Hiblu 1 can proceed to within Maltese waters. Once El Hiblu made its way to said location, another Patrol Boat, P51, along with two dinghies, were deployed.

Given the piracy allegations, the AFM decided to board the vessel. The captain was asked one more time whether he was still not controlling the vessel, and the captain responded that he had regained control.

Inspector Omar Zammit gave his testimony, where he detailed that on 27th March, a vessel named El Hiblu 1 was allegedly taken by force. He said that the next morning, it was under the AFM’s control, and was to be docked at Boilers Wharf in Malta. The vessel was to arrive at 8.30am. He boarded the vessel at 10am. He explained that by that time, the immigrants were still all aboard.

He went on to explain that the Chief Officer told him that an army-issued helicopter had guided them to save a number of immigrants at sea. According to instructions, the vessel was to take them back to Libya.

The El Hiblu 1 crew also explained to the Inspector that they couldn’t contact the Libyan Coast Guards. That’s when it was decided to head towards Libya, and that is the point at which the immigrants took up tools and threatened to harm themselves and cause harm to the vessel.

The case is being heard by Magistrate Aaron Bugeja.

You can follow the link below (in Maltese) for more updates as they happen

LIVE: ‘Tibgħatuniex lura, tlett ijiem bla ikel’; Jkompli l-każ ta’ El Hiblu

More details incoming.