Somali pirates trial: Deposition of 18 foreigners begins

MUMBAI: The 18 foreign witnesses will begin deposition in the videoconferencing trial of the 120 Somali pirates, who are facing charges of murder, hijacking a ship and waging war against the Indian government, in a city court from Wednesday. 

“The court has examined 70 Indian witnesses and 12 are left to be examined. Six witnesses from Thailand, six from Mozambique, two from Pakistan and four from Iran are yet to be examined. We have sent a request for video trial to their countries,” said a senior police officer.

The pirates were captured by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard in separate raids. Around 60 of the pirates were caught in March 2011, when naval ships intercepted a captured Mozambican fishing vessel, Vega 5, in the Arabian Sea about 600 nautical miles west of India. Others were caught when the Navy launched an assault to free the Iranian fishing trawler, Al Murtaza, that was captured by the pirates.

At least 70 hostages, mostly crew members from Thailand, Philippines, Bangladesh, Iran, Turkey, Myanmar and Pakistan, were rescued, and 11 AK-47 rifles with magazines, 10 AK-47s without magazines and two rocket launchers were seized. The pirates had killed Iranian national Mohammed Adam when he tried to resist them, while Pakistani national Abdul Aziz jumped into the sea. His body has not yet been found.

Harvinder Kour Wariach, DCP, Port zone, in a letter to secretary (IS- I division), ministry of home affairs, said it was decided to call the 18 foreign witnesses to the Indian Embassy in their respective countries and collect evidence through videoconferencing.

The amicus curiae for the parties have given an application to the sessions court stating that the foreign witnesses appearing should be genuine. A hearing in this matter will take place on Wednesday. Taloja jail officials say sometimes it becomes difficult to handle if any pirate becomes violent.

The pirates were in June 2011 charge sheeted for waging a war against the Indian government. “The Somalians were booked for attempt to murder, unlawful assembly, criminal intimidation, criminal conspiracy and for carrying weapons. We have invoked sections of stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA),” added the officer.

Four Pakistani fishermen, rescued from the hijacked ship, were taken back to Pakistan five months after the Pakistan government accepted them as its nationals. On the contrary, 54 hostages belonging to various countries were taken home by their respective governments within a week of their rescue.

The four Pakistani nationals were Lal Bakhsh Murid Khan (20), Sajjad Bakhsh (20), Farid Aalam Khan (24) and Aurangzeb Kakhsh (24). Khan and Farid belonged to the Mirpur district of Karachi while Sajjad and Aurangzeb hailed from Karachi itself.

The city police, unable to make head or tail of what the 120 arrested Somali pirates said in court, took help from two Somali MBA students, studying at the Pune University, to act as interpreters during the trial.

The incident: In 2010, the pirates had hijacked a Mozambican fishing vessel, Vega 5, and demanded a ransom of $20 million. Later, they hijacked an Iranian ship, Al-Murtuza. They made 70 nationals of different countries hostages.

The charges: The pirates are facing charges of attempt to murder, unlawful assembly, criminal intimidation, criminal conspiracy and for carrying weapons and under various sections of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Number of accused: 120

The maximum punishment: Death penalty (for muerder) and life (for attempt to murder and other charges)

The video-conference: The case is being heard by the Sewree fast track court. The pirates are not brought to the court on each hearing. A video conferencing facility is available in the court and jail and the hearing is done through this facility. Police said due to shortage of manpower and law and order problem they cannot escort pirates to court on each date.


Original Article