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UAE decision to sentence Somali pirates to life praised

Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Ramola Talwar Badam

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DUBAI // The life imprisonment of 10 Somali pirates this week showed the UAE's commitment to prosecute raiders, and gave momentum to the global battle against piracy, diplomats and security experts say.

The expensive, complicated legal process and fear of retaliation has often led other countries to follow a "capture and release" policy when the hijackers were seized.

"This was a very strong message the UAE sent, that it had joined in the war against piracy and in prosecuting pirates," the Kenyan ambassador Mohamed Gello said yesterday.

"The sentences send a very clear signal to the international community that the UAE is ready to deal with piracy very seriously."

Somali pirates cost governments and the shipping industry up to US$6.9 billion (Dh25.34bn) last year, the advocacy group One Earth Future Foundation says.

Kenya has the highest number of pirates in prison, the foundation says. Of more than 750 in jail worldwide, 140 are in Kenyan jails. Of those, 25 have been prosecuted, UN and Kenyan figures show.

Many nations are reluctant to try pirates due to fears that they may seek asylum.

"In Kenya we have a backlog of our own cases and pirates are overburdening the system," Mr Gello said. "Countries are afraid of what happens if pirates say they are afraid for their life and want to stay back as refugees. These are serious criminals with a serious record."

In Tuesday's decision, the UAE's Federal Criminal Court ruled the 10 pirates would be deported to Somalia after serving their sentences.

They were captured in a raid by UAE special forces and the US Fifth Fleet last year after a 30-hour ordeal, in which they tried to hijack the UAE bulk oil carrier MV Arrilah-I.

The pirates lobbed hand grenades into the ship's stronghold, also known as the citadel, and tried to smoke and burn out the 21 sailors and three security guards.

"It's an important milestone because not many countries want to be involved in prosecution," said Rhynhardt Berrange, the head of Global Maritime Security Solutions, which supplied the guards on MV Arrilah-I. "It's always important to prosecute and to get them out of the water."

But Mr Berrange said extra caution was vital at sea because of worries that prosecution of Somali pirates by a country would lead to retaliation against its nationals.

The Indian media has often reported cases of sailors being held even after ships were released, with pirates demanding the release of 105 Somali colleagues from Indian jails.

Countries were also reluctant to prosecute because of the complexities involved.

"There haven't been many countries prepared to move on prosecution, and that's why it's a good step by the UAE," said Simon Osborne, sales director of the maritime security company Protection Vessels International.

"It's always difficult to prosecute. It depends on the testimony of the crew, and it's sometimes difficult to collate information and testimony."

The UAE will host its second anti-piracy conference in Dubai on June 27 and 28.

The event is organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the port operator, DP World.

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