A Libyan plane with 118 people on board has landed in Malta in what Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat called a "potential hijack situation." The Airbus A320 of Afriqiyah Airways was diverted on Friday morning. Meanwhile, Malta International Airport has said that all flights have been cancelled or diverted until further notice.
8:20 pm IST: The situation has ended, with the hijackers letting go of the crew members and surrendering. They were asking for asylum in Malta.
7:20 pm IST: The hijack is almost over, as Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says the crew members of the plane are being released.
7:10 pm IST: The Maltese authorities are reportedly facilitating the release of another 44 passengers. that would mean 109 people will have gotten off board the hijacked aircraft. That accounts for all the passengers on board, sans the two hijackers.
7 pm IST: It seems the Maltese authorities are doing a really great job of resolving this situation, with PM Joseph Muscat saying 65 people have been released so far from the plane.
6:50 pm IST: Maltese PM Joseph Muscat has said another group of 25 hostages will now make their way our of the hijacked aeroplane.
6:32 pm IST: Maltese PM Joseph Muscat has just tweeted that 25 of the 118 people aboard the hijacked aircraft have been released.
6:25 pm IST: It seems Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his men have managed to get some leeway in their negotiations with the hijackers. He wrote in Twitter: "First group of passengers, consisting of women and children, being released now. [sic]"
First group of passengers, consisting of women and children, being released now.— Joseph Muscat (@JosephMuscat_JM) December 23, 2016
6:15 pm IST: Associated Press reports that a negotiating team is standing by at the Maltese airport, waiting for instructions from the PM Jospeh Muscat. Muscat is currently in a meeting with the country's National Security Committee.
6 pm IST: Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has spoken to Libyan Prime Minister Faez al Serraj. Meanwhile, BBC has reported that the Maltese armed forces have surrounded the plane.
5:44 pm IST: A total of 111 passengers including 82 men, 28 women and an infant, and seven crew members are on board the aircraft, according to reports.
5:40 pm IST: The pilot in the plane told Tripoli Airport Control before communications were lost that the he tried to land in Libya, but the hijackers refused, a Libyan security official told Reuters.
5:20 pm IST: The plane's engines were still running as it was surrounded by Armed Forces of Malta. It does not appear that anyone has approached the plane yet.
Libyan Prime Minister Muscat posted a tweet saying that he has been informed of a potential hijack situation of an internal Libyan flight diverted to Malta. Reports state that security and emergency operations are at standby.
According to the Times of Malta, a total of 111 passengers and a crew of seven members are on board the flight. The plane was on an internal flight from Sebha to Tripoli in Libya.
Reports also suggest that one hijacker is on board the flight and claims to be in possession of a hand grenade. The hijacker, who reportedly claims to be pro-Gaddafi, has said that he is willing to let all the passengers go except for the crew if all his demands are met. It is, however, not yet known what the hijacker's demands are.
According to reports, the Libyan Transport Minister is currently negotiating with the hijacker.
The Opposition leader in Malta, Simon Busuttil, has also tweeted saying that he is following the news with grave concern.
Six things to know about Afriqiyah Airways
- Afriqiyah Airways is Libya's national airline based in Tripoli International Airport.
- It was supposed to merge with Libyan Airlines in 2010, but those plans were put on hold.
- The Italian airline Blue Panorama jointly set up the airline with the Libyan government.
- Due to the Libyan Civil War, all flight operations by Afriqiyah Airways were terminated on 17 March 2011. They began again in July 2012.
- Afriqiyah Airways operates a small network to destinations in Northern Africa as well as Istanbul in Turkey.
- The airline has suffered only one fatal accident when on May 12, 2010, Flight 771, an Airbus A330-202, flying from Johannesburg in South Africa to Tripoli crashed on approach to Tripoli airport. Eleven crew members and 93 passengers were killed. The sole survivor was a nine-year-old Dutch boy. It is unclear what the reason for the crash was, but it is most likely to have been pilot error in murky weather conditions.