In the quiet courtroom, the Somali defendant sat unhandcuffed and with an earphone in place, flanked by guards.

"The court is now in session," the presiding judge said in Japanese. His words were immediately translated into English by one interpreter, and then into Somali by another. This "relay" style is how the trial sessions have been carried out for all four Somali defendants who were brought to Japan to be tried for allegedly attempting to hijack an oil tanker operated by a Japanese company.

The four defendants were taken into custody by the U.S. Navy on March 6, 2011, transferred to Japanese custody and immediately taken to Tokyo. But the legal procedures took a long time to begin and the actual trials only kicked off in January because authorities couldn't find a Japanese-Somali interpreter, said Koichi Kodama, a lawyer for one of the defendants.