A Mumbai sessions court today sentenced 15 Somalis to seven years’ imprisonment for indulging in piracy in the Indian-governed part of the Arabian Sea.
The court slapped the pirates with a fine, which – if unpaid – will earn them an additional sentence.
The pirates’ lawyer had told the court that India and Somalaia had signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the convicts to serve the rest of the sentence in their own country.
The convicts, who’ve become conversant with court proceedings in the last six years and have learned Hindi and Marathi, asked that the fine not be imposed.
THAI SHIP HIJACKED
In four separate cases, as many as 120 pirates were arrested between January and March 2011 – two of whom died during the trial.
The 15 who were convicted today were arrested in January that year.
While patrolling India’s Exclusive Economic Zone, a Coast Guard Dornier aircraft had received a MAY-DAY distress call about a piracy attempt from a merchant vessel (CMA CGM VERDI) flying the Bahamas flag. The pirates – who were armed with AK 47 rifles and two rocket launchers – were on board two small boats – Skiffs – were near the vessel.
When they saw the Dornier, the pirates on board abandoned their move and approached their mother vessel, a Thai ship called Prantalaya. They’d extorted millions of dollars as ransom for the release of Prantalaya and its 22 crew members.
The pirates attacked naval personnel as well before being arrested.
A section of murder was slapped in the case against the accused as a Coast Guard officer had seen the pirates fire a bullet at a member of the merchant vessel’s crew.
“The government had tried its best to bring a member of the Thai ship to come and give their statement before the court. (The) Maharashtra government had also sanctioned about Rs 35 lakh for the same. However the witnesses could not be brought and thus the murder charge against the accused could not be proved,” Special Public Prosecutor Ranjeet Sangle said.
Now, with the lighter sentence, the convicts will probably soon be deported to Somalia.
However, as Sangle said, “The court has said that the convicts have to serve the sentence and only then can they be deported.”
Although they were sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment, the pirates seemed hopeful that they would be able to return to Somalia in a year.
The court will be pass a judgement on another set of Somali pirates on Friday.