The Netherlands Rotterdam District Court [official website, in Dutch] on Thursday sentenced [judgment, in Dutch; press release] a group of Somali pirates [JURIST news archive] to five years in prison for hijacking a cargo ship registered in the Netherlands Antilles. The five men were arrested last year during an attempt to forcibly board a cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden after a Danish navy frigate sunk their boat. The five men had pleaded not guilty [JURIST report], saying they were fishermen who were seeking help after an equipment malfunction. They also challenged the court's jurisdiction and claimed that the severe poverty in Somalia had driven them to piracy. In rejecting these claims, the court emphasized the growing threat of piracy to international shipping that convicted pirates must face strict consequences:
The incidences of piracy and hijacking of ships in the Gulf of Aden have sharply increased since 2008. Because of the large sums of ransom pirates receive for the release of a hijacked ship and its hostage crew, piracy is extremely lucrative. Meanwhile, piracy is a serious threat to the internationally recognized right of free passage in international waters. The Gulf of Aden is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world, and the threat to the safety of the ships that sail this route has global economic consequences. Also, the food of the World Food Program of the United Nations in Somalia face the constant threat of compromise by pirates. Piracy is a serious matter, which needs to be firmly punished.After hearing the sentence, one of the defendants indicated [AFP report] that the court was discriminating against them. They faced a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison. The trial, the first European trial of Somali pirates, commenced last month [JURIST report], after the defendants were charged with "sea robbery."
The international community is supporting actions taken against piracy. On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) [official website] announced that donors will spend more than USD $9.3 million [JURIST report] to fund courts in Kenya and Seychelles that prosecute suspected Somali pirates. Yemen's Ministry of Defense announced last month that a Yemeni court sentenced six Somali pirates to death [JURIST report] and six additional pirates to 10-year jail sentences for the hijacking of a Yemeni oil tanker in April 2009. Earlier that month, UNODC announced that the island nation of Seychelles will create a UN-supported center [JURIST report] to prosecute suspected pirates. This will be the second such court established for the prosecution of pirates, following only Kenya. Last month, the UN Security Council [official website] approved a resolution [JURIST report] calling on member states to criminalize piracy under their domestic laws and urging UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] to consider an international tribunal for prosecuting piracy. The Security Council resolution came the same week the UN announced that a trust fund established to combat piracy will be funding five projects [UN News Centre report] aimed at piracy committed in the waters around Somalia. Germany will likely be the next European country to try alleged pirates, as 10 Somali men await trial there. In 2009, Somali pirates hijacked 47 ships and took 867 crewmembers hostage, according to a report [text] by the International Maritime Bureau [official website].