El Hiblu 1 is seen at the Boilers Wharf of Senglea, Malta on March 28, 2019. The Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) stormed a merchant vessel taken over by rescued migrants off Libya's coast on Thursday. The vessel, El Hiblu 1, en route from Turkey to Libya was required to rescue 108 stranded migrants that were allegedly transported to Europe. However, the rescued migrants overpowered the ship crew some six miles off the Libyan coast and demanded that the captain change course for Malta. (Xinhua/Roberto Runza)
VALLETTA, March 27 (Xinhua) -- A merchant vessel which rescued a group of 108 migrants in Libya's search and rescue area has been hijacked and forced to change course, a spokesperson for the Armed Forces of Malta confirmed on Wednesday.
The vessel was en route to Libya, where it intended to unload the rescued migrants. However, upon hearing that they were to be returned to Libya, the migrants reportedly seized control of the vessel.
The spokesperson confirmed that reports of a hijacked ship had been received and that the situation was being monitored. The vessel was heading towards Malta and it was being tracked by the Libyan Coast Guard, said the spokesperson.
The vessel, the spokesperson noted, would not be allowed to enter Maltese territorial waters, and the authorities there were prepared for "any eventuality".
The hijacking reportedly occurred when the vessel was just 6 miles from the Libyan coast.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Italy's ports remain closed to the vessel, noting that "they are not shipwrecked migrants but pirates."