IN THE second case involving Somali pirates, 16 Somali nationals were convicted on Monday and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. The men arrested in March 2011 in an anti-piracy operation by the Indian Navy have spent over six years in judicial custody.
The court acquitted them of charges including murder, kidnapping and other sections of the Indian Arms Act. They were found guilty under Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 307 (attempt to murder), 364 (kidnapping) read with Section 149 of the Indian Penal Code and under Section 16 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
On March 25, 2011, navy officers were on an anti-piracy patrol off the coast of Lakshawadeep on INS Suvarna when they received information that a merchant vessel, Maersk Kensington, was attacked by pirates. The vessel was fired upon by armed pirates operating out of a mother vessel, Morteza.
The prosecution told the court that despite warning to the vessel, the pirates opened fire at INS Suvarna and the navy retaliated in self-defence. The exchange of fire resulted in a blaze on MV Morteza and people were seen abandoning it. Navy officers rescued all survivors and saw one person falling on the deck.While the pirate vessel had 16 Somali nationals, its original crew included 12 men from Iran and four from Pakistan. The original master of MV Morteza told the navy that they had set sail from Iran five months ago and were hijacked by the Somali men.
They claimed that one person was shot dead by the pirates and another crew member had committed suicide because of fear and torture of the pirates. They were rerouted to Somalia and kept at its port for a month. The court ruled it was clear from the deposition of witnesses, including the complainant, Commander Jogi Tom Mundakel, that the pirates were “jointly involved” in the commission of the offence proving criminal conspiracy.
It, however, said that apart from Mundakel’s testimony that he had seen one person being shot and falling from the deck, there was no evidence to prove the murder charge. “Moreover, there is no proof that the said person succumbed due to the said shot. Obviously, there is no post-mortem or that kind of evidence before the court,” the court said while acquitting the men of the murder charge.
Two other cases involving two separate operations against Somali pirates are likely to be heard by this week.