SANA'A // The trial of 12 Somali suspected pirates accused of attempting to hijack a Yemeni oil tanker in April began yesterday at a state security court in Sana'a that handles terrorism-related issues.
The trial, however, was adjourned to October 6 as no translator was available to facilitate communication between the defendants and the court. "The court accuses these 12 people of hijacking the Yemeni oil tanker Qana while on its way from Mukala port to Aden and battling authorities [when they were intercepted], which led to the killing of sailor Salah al Quaiti and the disappearance of another, as well as the injury of four other sailors," the court statement read.
The defendants, aged between 18 and 47, were unable to communicate with Muhsin Allwan, the judge, who ordered prosecutors to commission a translator and adjourned the trial. The prosecution called for the maximum penalty for the accused. Fourteen suspected pirates tried to seize Qana on April 27, the same day it had been freed by the Yemeni navy from other hijackers, who had managed to escape. Two of them men were killed in the ensuing battle with marines and one was injured, the defence ministry said at the time.
According to the London-based International Maritime Bureau, a total of 130 attacks took place in the Gulf of Aden and in the east coast of Somalia in the first half of this year. Another 22 Somalis have been on trial since July in the southern port city of Aden on charges of piracy and attempted piracy in the Gulf of Aden. According to the prosecution, 12 of the suspects were arrested by the Indian navy on December 13 after they commandeered a Yemeni fishing dhow in the Gulf of Aden and took 12 fishermen hostage.
They are also accused of using the boat to launch an attack on an Ethiopian merchant vessel about 295km east of Aden. The 10 other defendants were captured by the Russian navy on February 12 as they tried to attack an Iranian fishing vessel off the Yemeni island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean. All 22 of the defendants have denied the charges. Their trial is scheduled to resume next week. Under Yemeni law, the 12 accused in the Qana hijacking case could receive the death penalty as their alleged crime resulted in the death of two sailors, but the 22 could receive jail sentences ranging from five to 10 years if convicted. Jalal al Sharabi, a journalist who has been following the piracy situation in Somalia, said the Yemeni government was unsure about how the suspected pirates should be prosecuted.
"Yemen, like some other regional countries, does not have a legislation to deal with piracy and therefore is basing the trial on other laws and considering piracy to be an act of banditry, which is punishable by death," he said. "The government has also put them before a court specialised in terrorism issues, which implies that it considers piracy to be an act of terrorism." A government report said piracy in the Gulf of Aden had cost Yemen US$350 million (Dh1.3 billion) since 2007.
The report, which was carried by the state-run Saba news agency said the government losses from maritime piracy amounted to $150m, which was spent on the purchase of boats for the coastguard, while fishermen suffered losses worth $200m. firstname.lastname@example.org