Rescued migrants hijack ship off Libya

A group of migrants have "hijacked" a merchant ship that set sail from Turkey and appears to be heading toward Malta, the Armed Forces of Malta said on Wednesday.

The El Hiblu 1 tanker was taken over by 108 migrants when it was six miles off the Libyan coast.

A Maltese army spokeswoman told dpa that Maltese authorities had received reports of the "pirated ship" on Wednesday afternoon and they have since been "monitoring" the situation.

The last contact with the ship was an alert sent out by the captain.

She said the ship was heading north and was expected to reach Maltese waters Thursday morning.

The Maltese army was putting units on standby and was seeking legal advice since this could be the first case of sea piracy in the Mediterranean in recent memory.

Reports said the ship was registered to Palau and included Turkish nationals among its crew. It was sold off by a Turkish firm on March 11. The Turkish Foreign Ministry reportedly stepped in to assess the situation.

The migrants hijacked the vessel when it became clear that it planned to take them back to Libya, according to the website of Italian daily Corriere della Sera and Italian news agencies.

"These are not migrants in distress, they are pirates, they will only see Italy through a telescope," said Salvini, who has cracked down on illegal immigration, including closing Italy's ports to charity ships, since he took office in June last year.

"This is clearly a case of organised crime," Salvini said on Facebook. "Our ports remain closed."

Earlier on Wednesday, the EU said it will suspend ship patrols that have rescued tens of thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean.

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