For pirates, jail's okay

Five Somali men sentenced to five years in prison for attacking a Dutch Antilles-flagged cargo ship


A Dutch court sentenced five Somali men to five years in prison last week for attacking a Dutch Antilles-flagged cargo ship, in Europe’s first piracy at sea trial in modern times. Ahmed Yusuf Farah, 25, Jama Mohamed Samatar, 45, Abdirisaq Abdulahi Hirsi, 33, Sayid Ali Garaar, 39, and Osman Musse Farah, 32, were convicted of assaulting the Samanyulo in the Gulf of Aden in January 2009. The attack was thwarted by the Danish navy and the ship’s Turkish crew, who destroyed the Somali boat with flares.

Although Yusuf Farah claimed their boat was seeking help after suffering a mechanical failure during a fishing expedition, and that he and his comrades were unduly shot at with their hands in the air, the five men were found to have been armed with automatic weapons and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Written testimony from the Samanyulo’s crew also claims the pirates approached the Dutch container ship in a threatening manner and fired at least one round from the grenade launcher. After a Danish helicopter fired warning shots at the Somali boat, the pirates jumped overboard. The five men were picked up by a Danish navy ship, on which they spent four weeks before being taken to the Netherlands.

Prosecutors argued for a seven-year sentence. But while court president Jan Willem Klein Wolterink agreed that piracy is “a serious crime that must be powerfully resisted,” he opted for a lesser punishment, noting the horrible conditions in Somalia that led the five men to piracy. Indeed, because of Somalia’s civil strife and instability, it is unlikely that any of them will be sent back there after serving their sentences. Even the prospect of five years in a Dutch prison may have seemed better than a return home—some of the men appeared quite content, waving at journalists as they left the court. One has already applied for asylum in the Netherlands.

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