The Tokyo District Court handed down 10-year prison terms Friday to two Somali pirates who stood accused of boarding and trying to hijack a Bahama-registered oil tanker operated by a Japanese company in the Indian Ocean in March 2011.
In what was the first case prosecuted under the 2009 antipiracy law, the point of the unprecedented lay judge trial was whether the court would hand down a prison term, or whether they would give a suspended prison term so the two Somalis would be deported.
The defendants, Mohamed Urgus Adeysey and Abdinur Hussein Ali, who gave their ages as 23 and 38, respectively, admitted the charges.
“The defense lawyers argued that severely punishing the defendants, who were part of a gang of pirates, will not be a solution to the problem of Somali pirates, and that it requires political and economic support for Somalia. But holding criminal trials against acts of piracy is also part of that process,” said presiding Judge Katsunori Ono.
The court said that although Adeysey and Ali and the two other Somalis in custody in Tokyo failed to hijack the 57,462-ton Guanabara, operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., and also failed to take the 24 crew members hostage, their actions were well planned and vicious.
The crew members, all non-Japanese, were able to save their lives by following emergency procedures and locking themselves in a special safe cabin. But the court said they were forced to live in fear for their lives for nearly 22 hours before they were rescued, during which time the pirates searched for them while firing their automatic weapons.
During the trial, defense lawyers had argued that Adeysey and Ali were poor and had no choice but to become pirates, but the court dismissed that argument and said the pair had joined the gang fully knowing piracy is illegal.
The antipiracy law stipulates that those found guilty can be sentenced to between five years to life in prison. Prosecutors had sought 12-year prison terms for Adeysey and Ali.
The defendants and the two other Somalis boarded the tanker on March 5, 2011, while it was shipping a cargo of crude oil from Ukraine to Singapore through the Gulf of Aden. As they boarded the ship, they shot their rifles multiple times but failed to take the crew hostage,
The U.S. Navy seized the four pirates and turned them over to Japan. The two others, including one who may have been a minor when the crime took place, are being tried separately.
The trial, which began Jan. 15, has been translated from Japanese into English and then into Somali.