ABU DHABI // Ten Somali pirates captured in a daring raid by special forces after they hijacked a UAE bulk oil carrier were jailed for life yesterday.
The pirates put the terrified crew of the MV Arrilah-I through a 30-hour ordeal after boarding the 37,000-tonne vessel in April last year as it sailed through the Arabian Sea en route from Australia to Jebel Ali.
As the 21 sailors and three security guards sought refuge in the ship’s safe room, or citadel, the pirates tried to smoke them out with burning wood on fans blowing air into the room. They then tried to burn them out by setting fire to the ship’s ropes before trying to blast them out with hand-grenades.
Mohammed Ismail, the ship’s Egyptian second engineer, was injured by shrapnel from a grenade thrown down the ship’s funnel.
The pirates were minutes from breaking through when UAE counter-terrorism forces in coordination with the US Fifth Fleet stormed the ship, captured the 10 Somalis and set the crew free. “We owe them our lives,” Mr Ismail said.
The drama began when the pirates approached the vessel on two skiffs and scaled barbed-wire defences before climbing aboard at the stern and opening fire on the crew with Kalashnikovs.
The extent of the crew’s terror in the citadel as they came under sustained attack from the pirates became clear in video footage of the damaged vessel recorded by the Armed Forces. Scrawled on a chalkboard in the room was a prayer in Arabic reading: “God protect me from them in the way you see fit.”
After their ordeal some of the crew asked that no mercy be shown to the pirates. “They should not be treated with mercy, they should be made examples of,” said the chief engineer, Mahmoud Al Hefnawi.
Public prosecutors said the pirates were guilty of crimes “repulsive to the human self”, and asked for the death penalty.
In the men’s defence, their lawyer, Ahmed Al Othali, said they were forced to carry out the attack. The lawyer said they had been threatened with death by their Iranian boss, known only as Abdulmajeed, if they did not take part. He said the men had taken what they believed to be jobs at sea, but were unaware they would be asked to take part in piracy.
The ship is owned by two subsidiaries of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and the rescue was said at the time to show the UAE’s commitment to act firmly against piracy.
The Federal Criminal Court ruled that after serving their sentences, the equivalent to 25 years in custody, the pirates should be deported to Somalia. The court also ordered the confiscation of all the weapons the special forces found on the ship.
The sentence sends a message to other countries about how judicial systems should deal with piracy, and is a warning to any pirates considering going after UAE ships, Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Inegma consultancy, said yesterday.
“The sentence is appropriate given the severity of attacks by Somali pirates recently,” he said.
The verdict is subject to appeal.