A court in Mumbai on Tuesday convicted 15 Somali pirates who had hijacked a fishing boat and taken 22 Thai and Myanmarese nationals hostage in 2011.
“Judge JC Jagdale convicted them for attempt to murder and kidnapping and sentenced them to seven years in prison,” said special public prosecutor Ranjeet Sangle.
The Mumbai sessions court also imposed a fine of Rs. 6,000 each on them. It directed the government to deport the convicts to Somalia after they serve their prison terms. The judge, however, acquitted them of charges of ‘kidnapping for ransom’ (where the maximum punishment is death) and offences under the Arms Act.
According to the prosecution, the accused hijacked the boat ‘Prantalaya 14’, took its crew hostage, and used it as mother vessel to launch piracy attacks. The Indian Coast Guard received a distress call about piracy attempt from a merchant vessel south of Lakshadweep Islands in January 2011.
The Coast Guard’s Dornier aircraft spotted two small pirate skiffs, which were approaching the merchant vessel. On seeing the aircraft, the pirates retreated.
Following which, the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard launched a chase and intercepted Prantalaya 14 on January 28, 2011. The pirates, who had 25 AK-47 assault rifles and two rocket launchers, opened fire on the Navy boat, and when the fire was returned, their mother vessel caught fire.
Of the 25 pirates on Prantalaya 14, 10 died in fire. A case was registered against the remaining pirates at the Yellow Gate police station in Mumbai.
Prosecutor Sangle said he examined 15 witnesses during the trial. However, the rescued Thai and Myanmarese nationals did not depose, which, according to him, led to the prosecution’s failure to establish the charge of kidnapping for ransom.
The Navy and Coast Guard had nabbed a total of 120 pirates between January and March 2011. The pirates who were convicted today belonged to the first batch of those arrested. Judgements in the remaining cases are awaited. All 119 pirates (one died during the trial) pleaded guilty before the court in Mumbai. Sangle said the judgement is “a reflection of commitment of India towards performing its obligation under the UN Convection on law of the sea” and that it sends a stern message to criminals on high seas.
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