KUALA LUMPUR: Seven Somali pirates, who had reportedly opened fire at the Malaysian navy in an attempt to hijack a tanker in international waters more than a year ago, pleaded not guilty at the High Court today to a charge of firing at commandos with the intention of causing death or harm in an attempted robbery.
The charge, under Section 3 of the Firearms (Increased Penalty) Act 1971, carries the death penalty, if found guilty.
The accused – Ahmed Othman Jamal, 26, Abdil Eid Hasan, 21, and five juveniles – were said to have committed the offence on board the Bunga Laurel vessel, 250 nautical miles from Oman territorial waters, on Jan 20, 2011.
When they were first brought to court in February 2011, weeks after the alleged incident, they were charged under Section 3 of the Firearms (Increased Penalty) Act 1971.
In October last year, however, the prosecution offered the seven an alternative charge of discharging their firearms on Royal Malaysian Navy commandos to prevent lawful detention.
The penalty for this offence, under Section 32(1)(a) Arms Act 1960, was life imprisonment, or for a term not exceeding 14 years, upon conviction.
The seven had pleaded guilty to the charge before High Court judge Kamardin Hashim.
Kamardin, however, eventually rejected the guilty plea, after the defence team had brought up the discrepancy in the facts of the case over the exact location the offence was alleged to have taken place.
Kamardin then ordered the case to be heard before another judge.
Yesterday, deputy public prosecutor Mohamad Abazafree Mohd Abas informed High Court judge Datuk Mohamad Azman Husin that they were withdrawing the offer of the alternative charge, and tendered an amended charge similar to the original one, with a slight adjustment to the coordinates on the location of the offence.
At this juncture, counsel Chan Yen Hui, for one of the accused, said the prosecution could not withdraw the alternative charge as the plea had already been recorded on that charge before judge Kamardin.
However, lawyer A.Saha Deva, representing another juvenile, told the court that the guilty plea to the alternative charge was rejected by Kamardin and added that the prosecutor had the power to withdraw the alternative charge.
Chan then informed the court that she would bring up this issue in submissions at the end of the prosecution’s case.
Azman then set Sept 2 to 13 for hearing.
It was reported earlier that that the seven had allegedly boarded the MT Bunga Laurel armed with guns with the intention to hijack the tanker.
On board were 23 Filipino crew members.
The siege of the tanker was brought to an end when commandos from Malaysian Navy auxiliary ship stormed the vessel where a shoot-out between the hostage takers and the commandos occurred.
The commandos overpowered the pirates and brought them here to face trial.