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Final Somali pirate slapped with 11-year term

by Masami Ito and Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writers

The Tokyo District Court on Friday convicted a Somali national and sentenced him to 11 years imprisonment for attempting to hijack a Japan-operated oil tanker off the coast of Oman in March 2011.

He is the last of four Somali men brought to Japan to be tried under the 2009 antipiracy law. The three other defendants, all convicted of piracy at the court, have appealed their cases, which were tried under the lay judge system.

Unlike the three other men, the 21-year old defendant, whose name has been withheld because he was a minor at the time of the incident, had pleaded his innocence, saying he and the other three defendants were only seeking help from the Bahama-registered oil tanker while adrift due to engine trouble.

But in handing down the ruling, presiding Judge Katsunori Ono brushed off this argument, saying it “completely contradicted” the testimonies of the other Somali defendants.

As a result, the defendant got slapped with the longest prison term meted out to the four. Two other defendants were sentenced for 10 years each, while another minor was given five to nine years.

“We considered various factors, including the balance between the defendant, who has consistently denied his involvement, and the others, who honestly admitted to the crime and received 10-year sentences, as well as the fact that the defendant was a minor at the time,” Ono said.

The judge described the attempted hijack as meticulously orchestrated and premeditated, while pointing out that the defendants fired automatic weapons a number of times while on board.

Ono went on to explain that their sudden assault had terrorized the crew, leaving them fearing for their lives, and that the captain was so traumatized that he had to quit his job afterward. None of the crew members was physically injured, but the malicious acts of the four caused ¥68 million in damages on the vessel.

After the ruling, the lay judges told reporters that they weighed the evidence and testimonies in court extremely carefully to make sure their opinions were not swayed by the previous three guilty verdicts.

“I would be lying if I said I had absolutely no preconceptions, but we tried this case from scratch and I don’t think (the sentencing) was affected by the other rulings,” said Hideaki Matsumoto, 28, a company employee.