A judge in Dutch court found five Somali pirates guilty of robbery at sea on Thursday in Europe’s first such pirate trial in modern times.
Somali pirates stand in the dock during their trial in Sanaa on May 18, 2010. A Yemeni court sentenced six Somali pirates to death and jailed six others for 10 years each for hijacking a Yemeni oil tanker and killing two cabin crew in April last year. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
All the pirates were sentenced to five-year prison terms by the district court of Rotterdam for an attempted hijack of a ship in the Gulf of Aden in January 2009. The men, aged between 25 and 45, were captured there by the Danish navy and then handed to the authorities in the Netherlands after spending one month on the Danish ship.
One pirate claimed in court that they were looking for help to fix their boat during a fishing expedition. The prosecutor pointed out that they were not on fishing boats, but boats typically used by pirates in Somalia. Moreover, automatic weapons and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher were also found on their vessel.
“Piracy is a serious crime that must be powerfully resisted,” the court president, Klein Wolterink was quoted as saying, but he argued the seven-year sentence put forward by the prosecutor was too high, taking the poor conditions in Somalia into consideration.
The defense counsel for the pirates argued that the wait time of 40 days before bringing the case to trial was too long. The court agreed with the argument but said it had no impact on the outcome of the case.
“This constitutes a breach of article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, no consequences follow from this in these criminal proceedings,” read the statement by the Dutch Judiciary and the Supreme Court of the Netherlands.
Off the Somali coast, pirates executed more than 200 attacks last year, sometimes collecting millions of dollars in ransom.
“Nobody wants to go back to Somalia,” Associated Press quoted one of the sentenced pirates, 39-year old Sayid Ali Garaar, as saying. “I want to live in a democratic country. I would like to find work in future to contribute to society here.”
One of the pirates already applied for asylum in the Netherlands.
Another 10 pirates are awaiting similar trial in Germany, after being arrested earlier this year when they attacked a German cargo vessel.
France, Spain, Germany, the United States and Kenya are also holding suspected pirates.