Thursday, December 18, 2014

Shipping Community Will Look Askance as More Alleged Pirates Walk Free

Despite International Transfer Agreements Delays in Charges and Insufficient Evidence Result in Overturned Sentences
Shipping News Feature

SEYCHELLES – SOMALIA – DENMARK – Three Somali nationals found guilty of piracy by the Seychelles Supreme Court have had their sentences overturned after the island nation’s Court of Appeal found that there was ‘insufficient evidence to prove that they were indeed pirates’. This decision comes after both France and Denmark were found, on separate occasions and in separate decisions and unrelated to the Seychelles ruling, to have violated the rights of Somali nationals who had been arrested on piracy charges.

The Seychelles Court of Appeal has now ordered the repatriation of the three Somali pirates back to their homeland after they had been arrested by the Danish Naval vessel HDMS Absalon in January 2012, along with 22 other suspected pirates, 17 of whom had subsequently been released, with one other sent to the Seychelles for prosecution and the remaining four sent to stand trial in Kenya. Both Kenya and Seychelles have transfer agreements with Denmark which sees the African countries taking responsibility for the prosecution of any suspected pirates that Denmark arrests.

According to local press, two of the three men held in Seychelles were appealing against their 21 year sentence while the third one, a juvenile aged 16 was appealing against his 14 year sentence. The fourth pirate sent to Seychelles apparently abandoned his appeal and was repatriated back to his native Puntland to serve out his 21 year sentence.

Both the prosecution and the defence agreed that a distinct lack of evidence made it difficult to mount a strong case against the Somali nationals, with the Prosecution Lawyer, David Esparon speaking to local media, saying:

“It happened on [the] high seas. The crew was dispersed and witnesses didn’t turn up and so it was hard to gather all the evidence. It’s not a matter of the prosecution having failed; it’s a matter of the circumstances of the case.”

The witnesses Esparon is supposedly referring to could be some of the 14 Iranian and Pakistani hostages of the FV Tahiri which was found by the Absalon as she was used by the pirates as a mothership, a rescue mission that had been recorded as part of a Danish documentary series on hunting pirates in the Indian Ocean.

This acquittal is just the latest in series of recent decisions in favour of Somali pirates. In November, Mauritius repatriated 12 Somali nationals, accused of attacking the container ship MSC Jasmine in January 2013, again released due to lack of evidence. What is a more worrying trend to many in the shipping industry and beyond are the compensation rulings in favour of convicted pirates, a decision that has baffled players in the ocean carriage community and leading to an angry response from the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP), calling the verdict ‘repugnant and insulting’.

Denmark has now been ordered to pay over €2,600 to each of the nine Somali nationals accused of pirate related activities, after it had been ruled that they had been detained for too long before being brought before a Judge, the same conclusion reached by the European Court in its judgement of the recent French case.

The accused had tried to hijack the Danish freighter Torm Kansas, and a Chinese merchant ship, MV Zhongj in November 2013, before they were captured by the Esbern Snare, a Danish Naval vessel and the sister ship to the Absalon. It was the same Esbern Snare which in 2011, as part of the EU Navfor force, was mistakenly attacked by pirates which resulted in the deaths of four of the attackers. In this case the Somali nationals had been detained for 13 days before being bought in front of a judge, contrary to Danish law which states that a person must bought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. A law presumably written at a time when arrests made out at sea, thousands of miles from Denmark, had not been envisaged. All nine men were taken to Seychelles to stand trial, which began earlier this year in September.

Photo: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Yuri Fedotov on a visit to the Secure Incarceration Unit at Montagne Posée Prison, Seychelles, which was constructed with UN money.