Somalian pirates convicted for 2010 hijacking can return home in a year

Aug 03, 2017, 10:10 IST | Sailee Dhayalkar

More than six years after they were captured in a mid-sea gun battle, 15 Somalian pirates were convicted on Wednesday by a special court

The Somali pirates were arrested near the Lakshadweep Islands in January 2011The Somali pirates were arrested near the Lakshadweep Islands in January 2011

More than six years after they were captured in a mid-sea gun battle, 15 Somalian pirates were convicted on Wednesday by a special court. The pirates were sentenced to seven years of imprisonment but seemed happy with the sentencing as they had already served six of the seven years. They even thanked the court.

Once they complete their prison terms, they will be sent back to their native country, as per the terms of a treaty signed between India and Somalia on Tuesday. They will also have to pay fines of Rs 11,000 each.

Witnesses flashback
These 15 accused form the first set out of 120 Somalian pirates who were arrested in four separate incidents between January and March 2011. This first set was arrested on January 28, 2011, in what has come to be known as the Battle of Minicoy Island at Lakshadweep. The accused were operating out of a Thai fishing trawler, Prantalay 14, which was hijacked in 2010. They had turned it into a pirate mothership. They had killed two and injured three during the hijacking and kept 22 people hostage for as long as 10 months in Prantalay 14.

Special public prosecutor Ranjeet Sangle examined 15 witnesses in the case. One of the witnesses, Indian Navy commanding officer on INS Cancarso, Arun Satishchandra Bahuguna, in his deposition said that on January 28, 2011, while patrolling near Minicoy Islands in Lakshadweep, they got an order to intercept the pirate mothership, Prantalaya 14, which had been hijacked.

Gun battle
When the officers contacted the accused vessel, there was no response. The officer also told them, "Please stop and identify yourself," but the pirates did not stop.

The officers then fired to stop them, but the pirates fired back. "At about 7:30 pm, due to firing by INS Cancarso, a small fire erupted on accused vessel Prantalaya, which engulfed the ship and finally stopped it," he said.

Those on board the Prantalya vessel jumped into the sea to escape the fire. Around 8 pm, the officers commenced rescue operations to pick up survivors and also detained 15 pirates. Another witness, Service Asst Commandant Pawan Kumar Yadav, told the court that he was posted at ICGS Sankalp on January 28, 2011, when he received directions to render assistance to the coast guard in a piracy incident. The ICGS Sankalp proceeded and reached the spot on the next day at 4:10 am and found Prantalaya 14 burning. They took the accused pirates and 22 hostages from the Navy's life raft.

Yadav further told the court that on interrogating the 15 pirates, he found them to be of Somalian origin. They told him that one of the accused Usman Salad had paid each of them $100 for hijacking and had promised them more money if they helped to hijack a merchant vessel. None of the accused had their passport or identity card. The Somalians, aged 18-37 years, were brought to Mumbai on January 31 and handed over to Yellow Gate police.

Judge J C Jagdale convicted the pirates under Sections 307 (attempt to murder) and 364 (kidnapping) of IPC and Section 16 (terrorist act) of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Why not death or life imprisonment?
The court observed that punishment for Section 364A (kidnapping for ransom) of the IPC is death or life imprisonment, but none of the prosecution witnesses turned up to give a first-hand testimony of the abduction or about the pirates' threats to hurt the hostages for ransom. The prosecution had cited six witnesses from Thailand and Myanmar, but none turned up. This is why the section couldn't be proved. The accused were convicted for an act of terror. The court observed, "The act on the part of the accused is nothing more than a challenge to the sovereignty of India." Witnesses also said that the accused used firearms against the Indian Navy personnel.

Three more captures

February 5-6, 2011: The Indian Navy and the Coast Guard foiled an attack by Somali pirates on a merchant vessel in the Arabian Sea, arrested 28 Somali pirates and rescued 24 Thai nationals held hostage on MV Chios, a Greece-flagged ship. In this incident, the pirate mothership was Prantalaya 11 - a sister vessel of Prantalay 14.

March 11, 2011: After a gun battle in the high seas, the Indian Navy apprehended a pirate mother ship, arrested 61 Somali sea brigands and rescued 13 crew members about 600 nautical miles off the western coast in the Arabian Sea.

March 26, 2011: The Navy foiled an attack by Somali pirates on a merchant ship, west of the Lakshadweep Islands, and apprehended 16 Somali pirates. They also rescued 16 hostages, 12 Iranians and four Pakistanis.

No. of hostages rescued from hijacked ship

No. of victims killed during the hijacking

- Inputs by Suraj Ojha

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