Somali pirates sentenced in South Korea’s first piracy trial


Five Somali pirates have been sentenced by a South Korean court for their roles in hijacking a South Korean-operated ship in January. The trial marked South Korea’s first attempt to punish foreign pirates.

The five pirates were captured by South Korean navy commandoes on January 21 when they liberated the Samho Jewelry chemical carrier, six days after it was hijacked in the Arabian Sea. 15 commandoes boarded the vessel after jamming communications and radar frequencies. Their activities were monitored via remote camera systems installed on each commando’s helmet and gun.

All 21 crew, including eight South Koreans, two Indonesians and 11 Burmese, were freed unhurt apart from Captain Seok Hae-Kyun, who is still recovering in hospital after multiple operations. Seok intentionally slowed down the hijacked ship as a South Korean destroyer pursued it.

The captain was shot by Mahomed Araye, who was jailed for life last Friday for trying to kill him, AFP reports. Prosecutors had been seeking the death sentence for the pirate.

Meanwhile, Aul Brallat, who is said to have fired at the commandos during an attempted raid on January 18, was jailed for 15 years, while two other pirates, Abdikhad Iman Ali and Abdullah Ali, were each sentenced to 13 years. They had used crew as human shields in the hijacking.
“This trial showed that any crimes infringing on the property or life of our people will be punished without fail according to our criminal code,” court spokesman Jeon Ji-Hwan told reporters.

Araye and Brallat have lodged an appeal against the ruling while two other convicted pirates are also expected to appeal, the Yonhap news agency said, adding that prosecutors would seek heavier sentences on appeal.

On Wednesday Abdulahi Husseen Maxamuud, the fifth and final pirate to be sentenced, was given 15 years in prison for his role in the hijacking. Lawyers had said that Maxamuud would be tried separately because he would plead guilty, AFP reports, but on Wednesday he denied major involvement in the attack and claimed he was just the cook.
“I sincerely apologise for what happened… I was not involved in the crime because I was just the cook,” the Yonhap news agency quoted him as telling judges, adding that he had tried to restrain the other pirates.

Although Maxamuud was cleared of attempting to murder the ship’s captain, he was convicted of maritime robbery and other charges. The court said he deserved a heavy penalty because he was involved in piracy and showed little repentance.

The court heard that some of the pirates involved in the Samho Jewelry hijacking had also participated in the hijacking of the 300 000 tonne Samho Dream oil supertanker. Together with its 24 crewmembers, it was released after a US$9 million ransom was paid.

Piracy is a major problem off the Somali coast. According to the International Maritime Bureau, as of May 23 Somali pirates are holding 26 vessels and 522 crewmembers. This year Somali pirates have hijacked 21 vessels out of 139 attempts, capturing 362 hostages in the process and killing seven.

In the most recent attempt on May 31, pirates armed with automatic weapons in a skiff fired on and boarded a bulk carrier in the Red Sea. All crew retreated into the citadel and requested assistance. A naval boarding team boarded and searched the vessel and rescued the crew but no pirates were found onboard.