An 18-year-old Somali was sentenced Monday to five to nine years by the Tokyo District Court for boarding and attempting to hijack a Bahama-registered oil tanker off the east coast of Africa in March 2011.

The defendant, whose name has been withheld because he is a minor, is one of four Somalis to face trial in Japan under a 2009 antipiracy law. The series of trials is being heard by three professional judges and six citizens under the lay judge system.

The 18-year-old admitted to participating in the assault on the tanker operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. but said he only aided the other three men.

But presiding Judge Katsunori Ono ruled Monday that he was a full accomplice, and that because he was the only one who could speak English he was supposed to play a large role in the hijacking by communicating with the hostages.

“This case was a typical act of Somali piracy that was organized and planned, as (the defendants) aimed to take the crew hostage to gain a massive amount of ransom money . . . and even though it ultimately failed, they should be punished severely, given the dangerous and malicious aspects of the piracy,” Ono said.

The prosecution had demanded an indeterminate sentence of five to 10 years in prison in accordance with the juvenile law. The Somali’s lawyers had sought a suspended sentence. Ono said he hesitated to hand down the maximum penalty because of several factors, including that the defendant was believed to be only 16 years old at the time of the attack and that he had grown up in a country torn by an ongoing civil war.

After the ruling, some of the lay judges told reporters they were at first confused about why Japan was holding these trials but later understood their importance from the viewpoint of international cooperation. They also expressed difficulty in trying a case involving a minor.

“There are many different types of juvenile crimes, but I wondered if limiting the prison term in accordance with the current juvenile law in general was right . . . whether it is correct not to be able to hand down a longer prison term just because the defendant is a minor,” said lay judge No. 1, a 39-year-old woman.

Mohamed Urgus Adeysey and Abdinur Hussein Ali, the two Somalis who went on trial first, were each sentenced to 10 years earlier this month. Adeysey and Ali, who gave their ages as 23 and 38, have appealed to the Tokyo High Court. The final defendant, also a minor at the time of the hijacking attempt, is set to stand trial next week.

The Somalis are accused of trying and failing to hijack the 57,462-ton Guanabara on March 5, 2011, with the intention of holding the 24-member crew for ransom. The crew escaped harm by locking themselves in a special safe compartment.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.