|Piracy has grown unchecked in the waters off Somalia, with the international community powerless to act [AFP]|
Six Somali men captured by French commandos in 2008 and accused of hijacking a yacht in the Gulf of Aden have gone on trial in Paris.
The alleged pirates, who are accused of kidnapping two French citizens, appeared in court on Tuesday in the first of four trial sessions to be held in France.
Authorities are hoping the prosecution will stem the growing wave of piracy that has turned the waters off the Horn of Africa into some of the most dangerous in the world.
The defendants – aged 21 to 36 – face life imprisonment for allegedly attacking the yacht Carre d’As in September 2008, and holding Jean-Yves Delanne and wife Bernadette for ransom for 10 days until they were freed by French commandos.
The trial is expected to last until early December.
The prosecution claims the men initially demanded a ransom of $4m, but lowered it to $2m, and called for the release of six other pirates held in Paris.
Piracy is rife in the waters off Somalia, with the international community powerless to act.
A total of 243 hostages and 10 vessels are being held for multi-million-dollar ransoms, according to figures from EU Navfor, the European Union’s anti-piracy task force.
Jack Lang, a former UN special adviser on piracy, said some 90 per cent of captured pirates are being released because there was no place to prosecute them.
Somali – with no central government since the overthrow of Siad Barre in 1991 and wracked by violence – lacks the legal infrastructure while other countries have refused to take charge of prisoners as their justice system is already overflowing.
‘Sense of impunity’
“We have to fight against this sense of impunity,” Lang, a former French culture minister, told the Reuters news agency.
“The pirates need to know that if they are captured, they will be tried,” he said.
A total of 22 Somali pirates are awaiting trial in France, charged with attacks on French ships near the Horn of Africa.
Of those on trial on Tuesday, some have confessed to the crime while others say they were forced to carry out the hijacking by criminal gangs that have sprung up in Somalia after 20 years of civil war that has brought lawlessness.
“In Somalia, residents have behind them a desert of stones, and in front of them a sea pillaged by factory-ships and
polluted by all sorts of rubbish. There is no longer any state.
“They know they are doing something wrong but they have no other choice,” defence lawyer Gustave Charvet told Reuters.
The powerlessness of the international community to stop the attacks often stems from its inability to bring the culprits to justice even after capture.
The EU Navfor figures show that 165 attempted attacks have taken place this year, with 24 actually resulting in the
hijacking of a vessel.
Only 56 pirates have so far been convicted, the last 11 in a trial in the Seychelles, while 55 are awaiting trial, EU Navfor said.