NEW YORK, Feb 17 – A teenaged Somali pirate captured in a dramatic high seas operation was sentenced by a US court Wednesday to nearly 34 years in prison, despite defense pleas for leniency due to his young age.
Federal Judge Loretta Preska in New York said the sentence of 33 years, nine months for Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse would serve as "general deterrence in this kind of crime."
Muse was captured in 2009 at the scene of a dramatic clash between the US navy and Somali pirates holding hostage a US merchant captain, who was eventually rescued.
Prosecutors and the judge described Muse as a hardened pirate leader who displayed a cruel streak when he pretended to shoot the US captain of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship.
Preska highlighted "the extreme level of sadism and violence that MR Muse and his men employed."
After the sentencing, FBI assistant director-in-charge Janice Fedarcyk said: "The stiff sentence handed down today sends a clear message to others who would interfere with American vessels or do harm to Americans on the high seas: Whatever seas you ply, you are not beyond the reach of American justice."
But calling for the minimum sentence of 27 years, Muse\’s defense said that he was the youthful victim of life in a poverty stricken, chaotic country and had little choice in his line of work.
Muse\’s lawyers have argued he was only in his mid-teens at the time of the crime. However, a judge ruled that there was sufficient evidence of Muse being at least 18 and that he could be tried as an adult.
Dressed in a green T-shirt and khaki trousers, Muse told the sentencing court: "I am very sorry and ask for forgiveness."
He was caught after he and other pirates seized the Maersk Alabama. In a standoff with a US naval ship, the pirates returned to their own small boat, taking the captain, an American citizen, hostage.
Muse himself boarded the US navy ship to negotiate but was arrested, while his three comrades in the small boat were picked off by navy snipers and the US captain was freed.
In court, Maersk Alabama crew member Collin Wright described Muse as the leader and said it had been "a very scary experience." Wright called for "the heaviest sentence possible."
US prosecutor Preet Bharara said: "For five days that must have seemed like an eternity to his victims, Abduwali Abukhadir Muse terrorized the captain and crew of the Maersk Alabama. Now he will pay for those five days and the events leading up to them."
Despite efforts by navies from around the globe to patrol the seas of Somalia — a crucial approach route for ships coming to and from the Suez Canal — piracy remains rampant in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.
Just last weekend, Somali pirates are believed to have captured a large cargo vessel off Oman, with 13 Iranian and 10 Indian crew on board, European Union naval forces said.
Crews and cargoes are held for ransom, which private shipping companies often pay. Dramatic military interventions do occur, but are relatively rare.