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15 Somali pirates get 7-year prison term

The men, who have been in prison for over six and a half years, will be released and deported to Somalia after they serve the remaining six months of their term in India. The men had last year accepted a plea of guilt.

IN THE first conviction in the country involving Somali pirates, 15 men were sentenced to seven-years imprisonment by a Mumbai sessions court on Wednesday. The men, who have been in prison for over six and a half years, will be released and deported to Somalia after they serve the remaining six months of their term in India. The men had last year accepted a plea of guilt. The two countries signed an agreement on Tuesday on mutual transfer of prisoners, the court was informed by the defence advocate.

Special Judge JC Jagdale found the men guilty under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including 307 (attempt to murder), 364 (kidnapping) read with section 149, and under section 16 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. They were acquitted of charges, including 364 A (kidnapping for ransom) and other relevant sections of the Indian Arms Act. On Wednesday, the more pressing concern for the convicted men, however, was the fine amount they were directed to pay by the court. The court directed each of the men to pay Rs 11,000 for the three offences they were convicted for. After the court pronounced the sentence, some of the men pleaded with the Judge in Hindi. “Saza maaf karo, paisa maaf karo,” they said.

Sitting at the back of the courtroom after the sentencing, some of the men were also heard asking advocate Vishwajeet Singh, representing the Republic of Somalia, about the fine amount. “If you cannot pay the amount, you will have to spend an additional six months in prison,” he explained to them. Earlier, Singh, pleading for lesser punishment, had argued that it was the failure of governance, law and order in their country, which had forced them to commit piracy. Special public prosecutor Ranjeet Sangle countered the submission by stating that piracy affected the maritime trade of the entire world and that the men had attacked the defence forces.

On January 28, 2011, a Coast Guard Dornier aircraft had got a distress call of a piracy attempt from the Merchant Vessel Verdi south of Lakshadweep island 59 nautical miles within the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone. The Coast Guard authorities cited two small boats approaching towards Verdi. The prosecution had submitted to the court that the pirates on sighting the Coast Guard aircraft, abandoned the piracy attempt and returned to their pirated mother vessel, Prantalaya 14. A total of 22 fishermen from Thailand and Myanmar were on the vessel along with 25 pirates.

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The mother vessel had been hijacked a few months ago by the Somali pirates who were then using it to hijack and apprehend other merchant vessels plying in the sea to extort money for ransom for the release of the vessels and its crew. The mother vessel was intercepted by the Coast Guard and the Indian Navy in a joint operation. The prosecution examined a total of 15 witnesses, including officials of the Coast Guard and Navy, who submitted that the men had opened fire at them. In retaliatory fire by them in self-defence, Prantalaya 14 caught fire and began sinking. The pirates told investigators later that two members of the original crew and 10 Somali nationals had drowned.

In its order, the court observed that the witnesses had specifically stated that the accused fired on them with weapons like AK-47.

“Moreover, all the witnesses have consistently stated that they have rescued hostages from the pirated ship,” the court said, while convicting the men. The court further observed that though the prosecution had cited six witnesses from Thailand and Myanmar, who were alleged hostages taken by the Somali men, none of them “graced the witness box”. “The prosecution has taken genuine efforts to bring the said witnesses from Thailand and Myanmar before this court. But, (due to) the apathy and indifferent attitude of the concerned governments of foreign countries, the said witnesses could not be produced,” the court said.

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The court is also likely to pronounce its judgment next week against 103 other Somali nationals, arrested in three different anti-piracy operations in 2011.

First published on: 03-08-2017 at 05:16 IST
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