Somali Pirates Sentenced

MSR’s correspondent in Italy Enzo Mangini reports on the sentencing of the 8 Somalis accused of the attempted hijack of the Italian merchant vessel Montecristo.

Somali Pirates Sentenced to 16 Years

By Enzo Mangini, Maritime Security Review

Public prosecutor Francesco Scavo left the bunker courtroom of Rome’s Rebibbia jail a satisfied man.

The first instance trial of the group of Somalis charged with the attempted hijack of the Italian vessel Montecristo ended today with a heavy verdict: the eight defendants were sentenced to 16 years in jail; Ahmed Mohamed Ali, thought to be the leader of the group, received a 19 years sentence.

It took nine months to complete the first piracy trial in Italian contemporary history and, apparently, the verdict has rewarded all the logistical and investigative efforts.

Of course the defending lawyers were not so happy, Douglas Duale said that the jury had got it wrong: «The crime was not actually committed but just attempted – he said – Thus they should have been more lenient, and they should have taken into account both the social conditions where my clients were born and raised, plus the fact that they’re all in their early twenties».

Lawyer Giuseppe Provenzani, who was defending the alleged leader of the Somali group, added: «It is not clear how they judged that my client was the leader, the fact that he is the only one with grey hair should not be enough».

In their speeches, the two lawyers highlighted some contradictions that emerged from the trial and testimonies given during the hearings: some identifications were far from clear they said and the original charges – attempted hijack with the aim of terrorism – was changed during the hearings to attempted hijack for ransom. Something that, in their view, cannot be done without lessening the defendants rights. «We are determined to bring the case up to the European court of justice – said Duale – But of course first we will go for an appeal, as soon as the motivations for such a heavy verdict are out».

The court established that the motivations will be known in three months time, given the juridical complexity of the issue.

Meanwhile, the nine Somalis will stay in jail in the southern Italian town of Benevento where they’re currently detained.

The Public prosecutor’s charges were accepted by the court, with an important “but”: the judges did not accept the idea that the pirates’ activities were somehow connected with the Al Shabab Islamist militia, as Scavo had attempted to prove. Nonetheless, the defendants were found guilty of attempted hijack of the 23 strong crew on board of the Montecristo, and Italian criminal code punishes this crime with from 25 to 30 years in jail.

Since the crime was not actually committed but “only” attempted – the Montecristo crew did not give up the ship and from the armoured citadel kept control of her – the maximum was reduced by one third and lowered to the closest figure: 16 years. The public prosecutor asked for 18.

Ahmed Mohamed Ali, the alleged leader, received 19 instead of the 22 years asked by the public prosecutor. This despite the fact that he was not arrested on the Montecristo, but on board of an Iranian owned fishing dhow thought to have been used as the mother ship for the assault on the Italian vessel.

All the defendants in the previous hearing of November the 7th had pleaded not guilty and told the court they were fishermen who had been kidnapped by another group of Somali pirates and forced to climb on the Montecristo at gunpoint.

They also claimed to have been mistreated by Italian Navy personnel once they had been transferred to the Andrea Doria following the successful rescue of the Montecristo’s crew by a British Royal Marines boarding team from HMS Fort Victoria on October 11th 2011, almost 30 hours later the ship had been attacked.

Their story – mistreatment included – did not convince the judges who were also unmoved by the defending lawyer’s argument that since the British navy had first arrested the Somalis, they should be tried by a British court or else there should have been a proper extradition order by a British magistrate.

The issue of jurisdiction was clear enough for the court: those arrested on board of an Italian ship were to be tried by Italian court, and the other four arrested on board the Iranian fishing dhow Al Azhib were strictly connected with the first group, therefore Italian law should also be applied to them.

As far as the allegations of mistreatment are concerned, the Italian Navy strongly denies all suggestions. Naval Vessel Lieutenant Alessandro Crocetta, legal advisor on board the Andrea Doria at the time of the events, said that «detention conditions were the best we could offer, plus the entire ship is under video surveillance 24/7 and the captain clearly forbade any crew member but those who had to take care of the prisoners to come close to them».

It will take the appeal trial to see if the prosecutors’ points will hold. Meanwhile, Italy strikes her first juridical shot in the fight against international piracy and this trial will probably be taken as a reference point for future cases.

In the meantime, another trial is about to start, but one that will have a very different outcome: on December the 4th, the same public prosecutor and the same defence lawyer will appear in front of another court in Rome to discuss the case of the attempted hijack of the Italian merchant vessel Valdarno on 16th January 2012, off the Omani coast.

The group of 11 Somalis charged with this attempted hijack decided to opt for a plea bargain with the public prosecutor and thus the verdict will be quite different; they will probably receive a reduced sentence of around 3 years and 6 months in jail.

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Earlier reports from Enzo on the first piracy trial in modern Italian judicial history:

Montecristo Hijack Trial

MSR’s correspondent in Italy Enzo Mangini continues to report from Rome on the first piracy trial in modern Italian judicial history.


Liberating the Montecristo

The commanding officer of the Royal Marines unit charged with the dramatic rescue mission to free two dozen sailors from the hijacked Italian ship Montecristo, has given testimony in the …


Landmark Trial

A dramatic turning point took place in the Rebibbia courtroom bunker during the third hearing of the trial against the alleged Somali pirates last week. Gerry Northwood, commander of HMS …


Assalto alla Montecristo

Otto giovani somali, gli imputati nel primo processo sulla pirateria contemporanea che si è aperto oggi a Roma oggi nell’aula …



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