TOKYO, Jan 15 – Two men accused of the attempted hijacking of a tanker off the coast of Oman admitted their crimes in a court on Tuesday, reports said, in the first piracy prosecution in Japan.
The two are among four African men arrested in March 2011 over an attack on a Japanese-operated tanker in the Indian Ocean.
Men armed with submachine guns tried to seize the tanker, which was operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines and had 24 crew members aboard, reports said.
US Navy personnel captured the men and Japan’s coastguard for the first time applied the nation’s new anti-piracy law to transport them to Tokyo to face trial.
In a hearing at Tokyo District Court that used two sets of interpreters — one from Japanese to English and another from English to Somali — the two pleaded guilty to charges against them, Kyodo News and Jiji Press reported.
The men were identified in court as Mohamed Urgus Adeysey and Abdinur Hussein Ali, and believed to be in their 20s or 30s, but reportedly said they were not certain of their own dates of birth.
The leading Asahi Shimbun newspaper quoted one of their lawyers saying that communicating with them was difficult because “they did not receive basic education and are illiterate”.
“I have tried to explain what this trial means and about its proceedings, but I doubt that they understand,” the lawyer said, according to the paper.
Under Japanese law, defendants, lawyers, prosecutors and judges meet before court hearings formally commence to establish points of arguments.
One of the men, both of whom say they are from Somalia, asked one of the judges who he was, the Asahi said.
Defence lawyers have argued the prosecution should have been dropped because neither the place of the attack nor the tanker — which was registered in the Bahamas — were Japanese territory, reports said.
The men will hear the court’s formal verdict on February 1.
Two other men who were brought to Japan will go through a different trial process because they are believed to be juveniles under Japanese law.
After a spike at the start of the last decade, successful pirate attacks on commercial vessels sailing off the Horn of Africa have diminished, deterred by an international deployment of warships to patrol the coast.
Somali pirates have been tried worldwide in countries including the Netherlands and South Korea.