Inside the British battle to wipe out the scourge of Somali pirates

Sailors navigating the coast of East Africa no longer have to fear an ordeal like that of Kent couple Paul and Rachel Chandler who were captured by Somali pirates, thanks to British efforts to put hijackers behind bars.

Prosecutors have successfully jailed 126 pirates and there have been no hijackings off the Horn of Africa in the last 24 months, new figures reveal.

Hijackings similar to the experience of the Chandlers and the hijacking of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama which inspired the blockbuster film Captain Phillips, are a thing of the past due to the success of a scheme to prosecute the pirates on remote islands in the Indian Ocean.

Lawyers from the Crown Prosecution Service used to dealing with serious crime in towns across Britain have been helping their counterparts in the Seychelles deal with the new work load.
The group of Islands, popular with holidaymakers, is 1,000 miles off the coast of Africa and previously had only a dozen lawyers, many of whom were part-time.

But scores of pirates have now been jailed – first in a specially built facility in the Seychelles and then transferred to UN monitored facilities in Somaliland and Puntland, provinces of Somalia.

The pirates have also been offered education, most of whom ‘grab it with both hands’, according to Charles Brown, a prosecutor who returned to Britain in March after two-and-a-half years as ‘State Counsel’.

‘Generally those captured have had no other means of earning a livelihood and now they are being offered an education and the chance to learn English and it’s unlikely they will be back in an open skiff on the Indian Ocean,’ he added.

Most of the pirates have now been repatriated to prisons mentored by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Hargeisa in Somaliland and Garowe, Puntland, where they will serve out their sentences, which range from two to 24 years.

Britain donated £2.58million to the UNODC Maritime Crime Programme for the Horn of Africa in 2013 and another £1million in 2014, most of which has gone towards the new prison in Hargeisa, and the refurbishment in Garowe.

A move by the Somali government to pardon the pirates was headed off after pressure from the UN and, unusually for Somalia, the better off pirates have been unable to pay substitutes to serve their sentences.

The Somali coast contains one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes but has suffered regular attacks by pirates since 2005, peaking at 52 in 2009, when pirates were taking in an estimated $100m (£650,000) a year in ransoms.

In October that year, Paul and Rachel Chandler were sailing around the world and were captured by Somali pirates just 90 miles off the Seychelles.

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