A Maltese special operations team seized a tanker on Thursday that had been hijacked by migrants it rescued at sea, and returned control to the captain who was sailing toward a Maltese port with the migrants and crew, armed forces said.
The migrants would be turned over to police for investigation, armed forces said.
Authorities in Malta and Italy said the migrants had hijacked the cargo ship on Wednesday after it rescued them in the Mediterranean Sea and forced the crew to put the Libya-bound vessel on a course north toward Europe.
Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said the Turkish oil tanker El Hiblu 1 had rescued about 120 people and described what happened as “the first act of piracy on the high seas with migrants” as the alleged hijackers.
It had been heading toward Italy’s southernmost island of Lampedusa and the island of Malta when Maltese forces intercepted it.
The captain had told Maltese armed forces he was not in control of the vessel “and that he and his crew were being forced and threatened by a number of migrants to proceed to Malta.” A patrol vessel stopped the tanker from entering Maltese waters, they said.
The special team that restored control to the captain was backed by a patrol vessel, two fast interceptor craft and a helicopter.
There was no immediate word on the condition of El Hiblu 1’s crew.