Kenya has opened a special court to try suspected pirates arrested by foreign navies patrolling the coast of Somalia and the busy Gulf of Aden.
The east African country has borne the brunt of taking in, trying and jailing suspected pirates, who have made the eastern African shipping lanes linking Europe with Africa and Asia the most dangerous in the world.
Foreign navies patrol the Indian Ocean to help protect commercial shipping from pirates. Tanzania, Seychelles and Mauritius have pledged to assist Kenya in prosecuting and jailing pirates.
Kenya said earlier this year that it would stop prosecutions if cost and security guarantees were not forthcoming.
“The government as a whole is happy that the piracy burden is being shared by Tanzania and Seychelles,” said Kenya’s deputy foreign minister Richard Onyonka, at the court’s official opening. “But it will only be fair if all countries bordering the (Indian Ocean) coastline take responsibility of (fighting) piracy,” he added.
The court, based at Shimo La Tewa prison in the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa, will be funded by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the European Union, Australia and Canada.
The head of the EU delegation in Kenya, Eric Van Der Linden, said the bloc would continue to support the efforts. “Much more is yet to come, and we have also been involved in the upgrading of facilities and prison prosecution, security related issues,” he said.
International navies are often reluctant to take suspects to their own countries because they either lack jurisdiction to prosecute them or are afraid the pirates may seek asylum.
If convicted, pirates will serve their sentences at the prison, where 106 piracy suspects are currently held, according to Kenya’s Police Commissioner Matthew Iteere.
He said that 124 suspected pirates had been arrested and handed over to Kenyan authorities by international naval ships from several countries since 2003.
“So far, 18 have been convicted, 10 sentenced to seven years in jail while eight got 20 years each. We have 106 suspects still in remand custody awaiting hearing and judgement,” he said.