Kenyan security forces have arrested Somali pirates in Kenyan waters for the first time, taking 11 suspected gunmen into custody after a failed attempt to hijack a fishing vessel, police said.
Kenya is one of the few east African countries prepared to put pirates on trial and has more than 100 suspects in jail facing charges. But, so far, the Somalis have all been captured by foreign navies patrolling the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.
“Yes, police have arrested the 11 suspects, believed to be pirates in Kiunga area. They are in custody,” said Provincial Criminal Investigation Officer (PCIO) Nyagah Reche.
Police sources said the suspects ran out of fuel at sea and hijacked a fishing boat and ordered the crew to sail to Somalia. But one of the crew made a telephone call which led to the intervention of Kenyan security forces based in Lamu.
One source said the suspects ditched their weapons and skiffs when they realised the police were nearby.
“Transport arrangements are being made to bring them to Mombasa from Lamu, so that they answer to several charges which are being prepared as investigations continue,” said Reche.
Somali pirates have plagued the busy shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean for years. Emboldened by ever higher ransom payments, Somali sea gangs accounted for more than half of piracy incidents worldwide in 2009.
Puntland sentences pirates
Foreign navies patrolling the areas have prevented some hijackings and captured scores of suspected gunmen. But finding somewhere to put them on trial has sometimes proved problematic, and some navies have let suspects go free.
Earlier this month, a Kenyan court sentenced seven Somalis to 20 years in prison for piracy after British Royal Navy forces arrested them in 2008 trying to attack a Danish cargo vessel. Ten more pirates are serving seven-year jail terms in Kenya.
The French navy has also taken a large number of suspected pirates to Puntland, the semi-autonomous northern region of Somalia where several sea gangs are believed to operate from.
Last Saturday, a judge in Puntland sentenced 22 suspects to six years in jail for acts of piracy in waters off Somalia. He released two boys, seized with the others by the French navy, as he said it could not be proved they were pirates.
Puntland’s security minister told reporters that the French navy had handed over another six suspects, in addition to 22 suspected gunmen delivered by French forces last week.
“They will be brought before justice very soon as the jails are overcrowded with pirates,” said General Yusuf Keyre.
Pic: Somali pirates