The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
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Ship switched off tracking device before sailing towards Libya, court told in El Hiblu case

Thursday, 15 September 2022, 15:00 Last update: about 3 years ago

The tanker El Hiblu 1, which was allegedly hijacked in 2019 by migrants that it had rescued at sea, had switched off its AIS tracking system and headed towards Tripoli at full speed, a court expert has testified.

Court expert Joe Degabriele, a master mariner, took the stand in the criminal proceedings against three teenage asylum-seekers, one from Ivory Coast and two from Guinea who are accused of hijacking the El Hiblu 1 in 2019, allegedly in a bid to prevent the captain from taking them and the 105 other asylum seekers it had rescued back to Libya.

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The Maltese authorities have charged the three youths with a series of serious offences, some under counter-terrorism legislation and punishable with life imprisonment.

The three youths deny any wrongdoing and are pleading not guilty. The case has raised concerns among human rights organisations, who claim the charges are trumped up. There is a campaign to have the Maltese authorities dismiss the trial and drop all charges against them.

Taking the witness stand Wednesday morning, court expert Joe Degabriele exhibited a report he had prepared in April 2019 regarding the incident. Degabriele explained that he had been tasked with gathering as much information as possible, both from the ship's logs as well as from its equipment to find out what the ship did.

The court asked him to read out his conclusions.

"From 22 March to 14:18UTC on 26 March, the ship appeared to have progressed uneventfully.... its speed is estimated to have been 9.5knots. From 1418 UTC to 1800 UTC on 26 March, the ship progressed East/Northeast at 0.97knots."

"Subsequently, from 1800UTC to 0500UTC the ship proceeded at full speed in a Northerly direction for two hours and then altered its course and headed towards Tripoli, again, at full speed. At this time AIS appeared to not have been operational," added the expert.

He continued that at "0611 the ship was heading directly to Tripoli port, but then altered its direction gradually, still at full speed." On 28 March the ship changed direction again, heading towards Malta, the court heard.

Asked whether it was concluding its evidence, the prosecution said it was currently waiting for direction from the AG on this front.

The case was adjourned to 22 November.


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