26 Oct 2006
A court in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa has found ten Somalis guilty of piracy and and hijacking. The men will be formally sentenced next week. The US navy arrested the armed men (about 80 kms off the coast of Somalia) in January and handed them to Kenyan jurisdiction. The convicted pirates had seized an Indian vessel and held her crew hostage for days before soldiers aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Winston Churchill rescued them.
At the time of their arrest, the men denied the charges pressed against them and instead claimed that they were abducted from their fishing boats. The freed Indian hostages however positively identified them as the people that tortured and held them hostage for five days.
The successful conclusion of this trial is seen a victory to the Kenyan judiciary and a deterrent to future pirates. Defense lawyers had been questioning the competence of the Kenyan courts to try suspects arrested off the Somali coast.
The absence of a functional central government in Somalia since 1991 has created favorable conditions for all types of criminal elements to operate in and around the country.
Last year, pirates made an unsuccessful attempt to seize a luxury cruise liner off the coast of Somalia. Shipping sources had estimated in January that around 35 piracy incidents occurred in a nine months period in the waters around Somalia.
The incidence of piracy seems to be on the decline of recent. Observers attribute this to increased international policing of the waters and the stabilizing effect on a section of Somalia by the Union of Islamic Courts that control a large part of the country.
Njei Moses Timah