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Three sailors found guilty of possessing guns

A ship's crew carried illegal weapons including Kalashnikov rifles to fight piracy, a court is told.

ABU DHABI // A captain and two crew members have been convicted of carrying weapons and ammunition on their ship, which the leader said were for protection against pirates on a voyage to Somalia.

Documents released by the Federal Supreme Court on Sunday stated the arms were found last March when the ship was inspected at Al Hamriya Port, Dubai.

Coastguard officers found a white bag with two Kalashnikov rifles in the engine room and six lockers filled with ammunition.

The captain and two crew members were immediately arrested.

"Security forces noticed signs of fear on the ship's crew, which aroused their suspicion so they inspected the ship," court documents show.

The arms and ammunition had been taken on-board by the two crewmen, who worked as security guards, to protect the crew from pirates, the captain said.

The nationalities and identities of the three men, and the port where the guns were taken on-board, were not disclosed.

The captain said he had entered Al Hamriya Port to fix a mechanical problem.

The company that owned the ship knew about the weapons, he said.

Prosecutors said the security workers had confessed to taking the weapons on to the ship, but in court they denied doing it or even knowing the arms were there.

Only the captain confessed to the weapons charges in court.

He said he did not know he had to inform the authorities of the weapons and was not aware he would be charged if caught.

The court found all three guilty.

"It does not help them that they only entered the port to fix a mechanical problem in the ship and that their possession of the two weapons and ammunition was intended to be used to fight pirates," the court document said.

"Ignorance of the criminal law is not considered an excuse that denied the criminal responsibility."

The court confiscated the munitions and sentenced the men to time served - about six months - and ordered them to be deported.

The ship's status is unclear. According to former Supreme Court rulings, a vehicle used in a crime is to be confiscated by the authorities.

Commercial ships and yachts have come under increasing attack from pirates in recent years, due to the lucrative ransoms, which can be extorted by the hijackers.

Last year a total of 53 ships were hijacked worldwide and a record 1,181 hostages were taken, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

IMB figures show a surge in pirate activity with a total of 445 pirate attacks in 2010, an increase of 10 per cent compared to 2009.

A total of 750 Somali men are currently on trial in 14 different countries on piracy charges, according to the BBC.

Because of the increased surveillance of the Somali coast, pirates are now moving further into the Indian Ocean.

In February this year, an American couple's seven-year-long, around-the-world sailing journey ended tragically after they were held hostage and later killed by pirates.

The couple, Scott and Jean Adam, were sailing off Oman's coast. Two American guests who had joined them earlier into the journey were also killed.

In April The National reported how the cargo ship, The Fairchem Bogey, managed by Anglo-Eastern Ship Management, based in Mumbai, was hijacked by pirates just outside Salalah Port in Oman. On Saturday, a Frenchwoman was kidnapped by suspected Somali militants on a resort island in northern Kenya.

The fear of pirate attacks has affected Abu Dhabi's plans to participate in the Volvo Ocean Race.

In August, organisers cut short the Abu Dhabi leg of the round-the-world yacht race for fear of pirate attacks.

The contestants were supposed to sail from Cape Town to the capital but will instead be loaded on to a ship at a secret location on the east African coast and transported to an undisclosed port in the UAE, from where they will race to Abu Dhabi.

hdajani@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Vesela Todorova

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