Six Somali pirates have each been sentenced to 16 years in jail for the attempted seizure of a Spanish fishing vessel in 2012.
On 4 February Spain’s National Court handed down the sentences for piracy and for being members of a criminal gang.
The 4,089gt tuna purse seiner Izurdia, owned by Bermeo-based Atunsa, was on its way to Port Victoria, Seychelles, on 10 October 2012. Near the Yemeni island of Socotra a skiff approached and one of the assailants fired an AK-47. Tuna vessels of this kind have a low freeboard towards the stern, making them easy for pirates to board.
An armed security team aboard fended off the seven-strong pirate action group (PAG), which gave up the attempt after half an hour. The attack was notable for being the first serious pirate action off Somalia for three months.
As Izurdia continued towards the Seychelles, Dutch amphibian transport ship HNMLS Rotterdam spotted the skiff 200nm off Somalia. A helicopter-borne assault team searched the boat and found materials linking the men to the assault on the Spanish ship.
The men were part of a Hobyo-based gang that had gone to sea equipped with guns, grenade launchers, and boarding equipment. The court found that they were “an assault cell or organised pirate group with material to board and kidnap commercial boats that sailed in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia”. Analysis of one of the pirate’s SIM cards and fingerprints of the arrested men showed that they were members of a PAG that had participated in the seizure of two other vessels.
Meanwhile, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in Mauritius has launched an appeal in the Supreme Court against the acquittal of 12 Somalis accused of attacking MSC Jasmine in January 2013. After arrest the accused were taken to Mauritius for trial under an EU-brokered agreement. After many delays the case came to court last year, but magistrate Wendy Rangan found there was insufficient evidence to prove culpability and the men were acquitted on 6 November 2014.
The DPP disputes Rangan’s contention that the alleged incident occurred in Somalia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) on the grounds that Somalia does not have an internationally agreed EEZ. The DPP also maintains that the first trial did not give sufficient weight to evidence provided by foreign military personnel involved in the arrest.