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 towards 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 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 towards 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. Migrants land in Sicily as ship crew faces uncertain fate “Poor castaways, who hijack a merchant ship that saved them because they want to decide the route of the cruise,” Italian news agency ANSA quoted Salvini saying sarcastically. Salvini said weather was not good and it was too early to tell whether the ship was being directed towards Malta or Italy’s Lampedusa island. But he had a message for the pirates: “Forget about Italy.” It was heading towards Lampedusa or Malta when Maltese forces intercepted it. The captain 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. Some 170 migrants feared dead in two Mediterranean incidents There was no immediate word on the condition of El Hiblu 1’s crew. Other information about the reported hijacking was unavailable or difficult to confirm while the vessel remained at sea. Italian media reports said the ship was heading to Libya to drop off the group that was rescued when migrants seized control 8km (six miles) from the Libyan coast. A private group that operates a rescue ship and monitors how governments treat migrants, Mediterranea Saving Humans, urged compassion for the group on the hijacked vessel and said it hoped European countries would act “in the name of fundamental rights”, insisting that they were dealing with “human beings fleeing hell”. UK deploys navy to ‘help prevent’ migrants crossing English Channel Mass migration to Europe has dropped sharply since 2015, when the continent received 1 million refugees and migrants from countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. The surge created a humanitarian crisis in which desperate travellers frequently drowned and leading arrival spots such as Italy and Greece struggled to house large numbers of asylum seekers. Along with the dangerous sea journey itself, those who try to cross the Mediterranean risk being stopped by Libya’s coastguard and held in detention centres human rights groups have described as bleak places where migrants allegedly suffer abuse. European Union member countries, responding to domestic opposition to welcoming immigrants, have decided to significantly downscale an EU operation in the Mediterranean, withdrawing their ships and continuing the mission with air surveillance only.