x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Death sentences for Somali pirates who killed Yemeni sailor on oil tanker

Six to die and another six given 10-year prison terms for killing a crew member on board a hijacked Yemeni ship last year.

SANA'A // Six Somali pirates were sentenced to death yesterday and six others jailed for 10 years for killing a crew member on board a Yemeni oil tanker they hijacked last year.

According to Yemeni authorities, the hijackers were captured after they had seized the Qana and attempted to hijack another vessel sailing from Mukalla port in south-eastern Yemen to Aden on April 26, 2009. A Yemeni crew member was killed, four were injured and another was never found after the Yemeni navy attempted to rescue the tanker. Two pirates were also killed in the rescue. "The 12 people hijacked the Yemeni oil tanker ... and battled 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," said Judge Muhsein Allwan, while reading the verdict of the state security court.

The pirates, aged between 18 and 47, were present in the court, clad in blue uniforms and handcuffed. The ruling also stated that the defendants should pay US$2 million (Dh7.2m) as compensation to the Aden Refineries Company, which owns the ship. They protested against the verdict and asked for the chance to appeal. "We will appeal against the verdict and we demand an international tribunal as there is no law in Yemen," some of the men shouted after the verdict was read. "There are no witnesses and there is no evidence."

The fourteen pirates tried to seize Qana the same day it had been freed by the Yemeni navy from other hijackers who had managed to escape. During the trial, which started in September, the prosecutors said four of the pirates, Ayshar Salat, Ahmed Quleed, Abdulrishi Yusuf Abdullah, and Abdulrazaq Mohammed Areed, had confessed that they set sail to Yemen from Somalia, planning to hijack any ship they could.

The four men, considered by the Yemen authorities to be the leaders, told interrogators they saw a Yemeni oil tanker, which they approached and boarded with ropes, threatened the captain and crew, and forced them to steer the tanker towards Somalia without notifying the Yemeni forces, according to the prosecutors. The defendants denied confessing to any of the charges. The sentencing comes as piracy remains a serious concern and the Yemeni authorities have increased efforts to stop attacks on ships and prosecute suspected pirates.

At least two hijackings were reported against Yemeni vessels this month, including a Yemeni fishing boat in the Red Sea with seven crew members and a cargo ship with a crew of nine Yemeni sailors. On May 8, the Yemeni coastguard seized a fishing boat carrying weapons including machine guns and night binoculars, according to Yemeni authorities. Fourteen Indian and Somalis crew members on-board were arrested.

According to the London-based International Maritime Bureau which monitors maritime crime, Somali pirates attempted 217 attacks in 2009. A total of 1,052 crew were taken hostage. Sixty-eight crew were injured in the attacks and eight crew members were killed. It also reported another 35 attempts between January and March this year, a decline of 27 from the same period last year. Another 22 Somalis have been on trial since July in 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 in December 2008 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 in February last year 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. Another three suspected Somali pirates are expected to stand trial soon in Hadramaut on charges of hijacking a Yemeni fishing boat and attempting to seize an Indian ship, according to the defence ministry website. A 2009 government report said piracy in the Gulf of Aden had cost Yemen US$350 million since 2007. @Email:malqadhi@thenational.ae