S. Korea to open trial of five Somali pirates

May 23, 2011 12:00 am

, SEOUL, May 23 – Five Somali pirates will go on trial in South Korea Monday on charges punishable by life imprisonment, four months after they were seized in a dramatic commando raid on a hijacked ship in the Indian Ocean.

Tight security will be in force at the court in the southern city of Busan when the five answer charges including maritime robbery, kidnapping and attempted murder.

Piracy has surged in recent years off Somalia, a lawless, war-torn country that sits alongside one of the world\’s most important shipping routes, but many of those caught by an international fleet of warships are freed because there is nowhere to try them.

The trial in Busan is part of efforts to address the problem, and marks the first attempt by South Korea, a major seagoing nation, to punish foreign pirates.

About 100 riot police will guard the Busan District Criminal Court and a limited number of spectators and press will have to pass through metal detectors, said court spokesman Jeon Ji-Hwan.

"We are doing our best to maintain security and order in our court because this trial will be watched closely by the international community," he told AFP.

A jury — a relative novelty in the country — will hear the case alongside the judges.

The 12-strong panel, including three alternate members, will suggest a verdict and sentence but the judges are not bound by its recommendations.

Four pirates will have their case heard by a jury and a verdict is expected Friday evening.

A fifth, identified as Abdulahi Husseen Maxamuud, 20, pleaded guilty to all charges and will answer questions separately in court on Tuesday. He will be sentenced on June 1.

South Korean navy SEALs raided the South Korean-owned chemical freighter Samho Jewelry on January 21, six days after it was hijacked in the Arabian Sea, killing eight pirates and seizing five.

All 21 crew were rescued but Captain Seok Hae-Kyun, 58, was shot several times and remains in stable condition in hospital after multiple operations. His written testimony will be read to the court on the third day.

Seok was hailed as a hero for his attempts to slow down his ship after it was hijacked, as were the commandos.

Prosecutors have said a pirate identified as Araye Mahomed shot the captain when commandos launched their raid, although he was also hit once by crossfire from the South Koreans.

Prosecutors said one bullet that seriously injured Seok matched Mahomed\’s gun. The suspect, who denies shooting the captain, will answer questions on Thursday.

Investigators say some of the pirates had last year taken part in the hijacking of a South Korean supertanker owned by the same firm as the Samho Jewelry.

The 300,000-tonne Samho Dream and its 24 crew were released after a reported $9 million ransom payment was made.

Despite the scale of piracy off Somalia, only a few perpetrators have been brought to justice so far.

In March a US court sentenced five Somali pirates to life in prison plus 80 years for their attack on a US naval vessel deployed on anti-piracy patrol.

A month later a Somali was sentenced to 25 years in Washington for his role in holding a merchant ship and its crew hostage for 71 days.

On Friday another Somali pleaded guilty in Norfolk, Virginia, to piracy and hostage-taking for a yacht hijacking that left four Americans dead, in a deal with prosecutors that saw him avoid a possible death sentence.

In May a Spanish court sentenced two Somalis to jail terms totalling 439 years each for their role in the hijacking of a fishing trawler and its crew in 2009.

In February a Malaysian court charged seven suspected Somali pirates with firing at Malaysian forces during a Gulf of Aden raid to free a hijacked tanker, under laws that carry the death penalty.


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