Nine migrants have been arrested on suspicion of attempting to hijack a Dutch cargo ship in Morocco.
The suspects were part of a group of migrants rescued by the VOS Pace vessel after the boat they were using to migrate to Europe got into difficulty a few kilometers off the Moroccan coast.
The offshore supply ship, which is registered in the Netherlands, brought on board 79 migrants from two boats in distress on Monday night.
After reporting the incident to the Morrocan authorities, the vessel’s crew were ordered by the Rescue Coordination Centre in Rabat to return those rescued to the Morrocan port of Tan-Tan, but when some of the migrant group realized they were being returned to the African mainland, they became aggressive.
According to the Dutch current affairs program Hart van Nederland, the suspects threatened the ship’s crew with knives and demanded that they set sail for the Canary Islands, a popular landing zone for migrants departing Western Africa for the territory of the European Union.
Under duress, the ship’s captain redirected the vessel to the Spanish island of Fuerteventura but managed to alert the Spanish authorities of the hijack-in-progress.
Upon arrival at the port, the nine hijackers were arrested, while the remaining migrants on board are being held for questioning by Spanish police.
The majority of those on board were adult males of North African origin, sources from the Spanish emergency services told Spanish news agency EFE. There were also nine women and one child in the group.
If convicted of piracy, the suspects will face a minimum of 10 years in prison under Spanish law.