Italy Jails More Somali Pirates

Less than a week after Italian courts sentenced a group of Somali pirates to heavy jail terms for the attempted hijack of the Montescristo, Rome’s courts have witnessed a further 11 Somalis sent to prison on similar charges. Enzo Mangini reports from Rome.

Italy Jails More Somali Pirates

By Enzo Mangini, Maritime Security Review

It was just after midday when judge Giacomo Ebner proclaimed that the eleven Somali citizens standing in courtroom number 10 on the first floor of Rome’s tribunal, were being given 3 and a half year sentences.

The Somalis were charged by public prosecutor Francesco Scavo under article 1135 of Italian navigation code for the attempted hijack of the Italian merchant vessel Valdarno.

The events took place about 200 nautical miles off the coast of Oman, on the 17th of January 2012.

The 24 people on board the Valdarno reacted quickly and efficiently to the threat posed by two skiffs that were approaching the vessel as fast as they could.

The 139 meter tanker belonging to Montanari Navigazione was empty at that moment, hence, while the crew took refuge in the armoured citadel, the captain ordered full speed and a zig-zag course, which produced high waves impeding the skiffs’ approach.

The Valdarno eventually out sped the Somali assailants, who returned to their mother ship, a Yemeni fishing dhow, which had been captured earlier during the high seas safari.

The crew of the Valdarno launched an SOS which was received by the Italian Navy frigate Grecale, part of the Nato SNMG2 led anti-piracy operation Ocean Shield. Grecale sent her helicopter to appraise the situation and later a boarding team of Italian navy fusiliers from the San Marco Regiment was dispatched to catch the mother ship.

Once on board, Italian soldiers found that 10 yemeni fishermen on the dhow were being held hostage at gunpoint by a group of 11 Somalis. All the Somalis were arrested and transferred on the Grecale, from where Italian judicial authorities were contacted to validate the arrest and start due procedures to move the suspected pirates to Italy to face trial.

Just a few days ago, on November the 27th, the Montecristo trial ended with very heavy verdicts: 16 and 19 years for the pirates.

Why such a difference?

In the Valdarno case, it was clear that the hijack was just an attempt and no one was able to board the vessel. Even more, the pirates used only Ak47 shots to force the crew to halt the ship, while in the Montecristo trial it emerged that several Rpg rocket were fired toward the main deck posing an immediate threat to the crew’s life.

In addition to the technical details, the Somali citizens involved in the Valdarno trial were smart enough to close a plea bargain with the public prosecutor, thus cutting the possible jail verdict even further.

Finally, the defending lawyer Douglas Duale could have raised a jurisdiction issue: these Somalis were not arrested on board of an Italian ship – as was the case for the Montecristo – but on a Yemeni boat, in international waters. Thus, it was debatable that they should be tried by an Italian court. The court also took into account that they are all very young, in their early twenties, hence the more lenient verdict.

Today’s verdict closes the second trial against Somali pirates in Italy, but investigations continue. There are several issues that need to be clarified, connected with past cases and paid ransoms. So, more news could emerge in the coming weeks.

By next summer, the appeal trial of the Montecristo hijackers could start. The defence lawyers are confident they can obtain a substantial reduction on the jail terms handed down to their clients.

The case is far from closed.


See also: Somali Pirates Sentenced

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