One of the accused was identified by the court during the arraignment in Valletta, the capital, as Abdalla Bari, a 19-year-old from Guinea.
The captain of an oil tanker which was hijacked by migrants in Libyan waters earlier this week said that the hijackers began to batter the ship with metal rods and threatened crew members after they realised they were being returned to Libya. The newspaper said they believe he may have said he was not in control of his ship to gain permission to land in Malta, which has in the past, like some other European countries, refused ships carrying rescued migrants.
3 migrants charged in Malta in hijacking of ship at sea
After the migrants went on smashing spree, el-Hiblu called a Libyan port and told them the crew was heading toward Europe because "they are going to kill me and kill us if we return".
The suspects pleaded not guilty and were placed in preventive detention pending trial. But when the migrants realized Wednesday they were headed back to lawless Libya, which they had just left, some revolted, commandeering the ship and forcing it to head to Europe.
The soldiers escorted the Elhiblu 1, a Turkish vessel, to Malta where five of the 108 migrants on board were arrested and led away in handcuffs. They handed control back to the captain who steered the ship to Valletta under a navy escort.More news: Dimuth Karunaratne: Sri Lanka Test captain charged with drink-driving
Under Maltese law, unlawfully seizing control of ship can be considered a terrorist activity and is punishable by anything between seven and 30 years in prison.
The temporary hijacking was described by Italy's hard-line interior minister as an act of piracy.
Although UN data show sea arrivals falling from more than a million in 2015 to some 140,000 a year ago, migration remains a major political theme in the EU, particularly ahead of the European Parliament election in May.More news: First edition Harry Potter book sells for over $90,000 at auction
But political tensions around migration run high in the EU, and have flared once more ahead of the European Parliament election in May.More news: Klopp on Liverpool's last-minute win: 'Today was slightly ugly'