Seychelles highest court acquits 8 Somalis including minor in piracy-related appeal cases
The Seychelles Court building 'Palais de Justice' which also houses the Court of Appeal. (Seychelles News Agency)
(Seychelles News Agency) - The Seychelles Court of Appeal has ordered the repatriation of at least 8 Somalis to their homeland, after quashing their sentences in two appeal cases relating to piracy convictions.
The rulings were delivered last Friday, at the end of the second sitting of the highest Court in Seychelles for this year.
In one of the appeal, Judges January Msofe, Anthony Fernando and Mathilda Twomey who is also the Seychelles Chief Justice were unanimous in their decision to quash the conviction of seven Somalis convicted by the Supreme Court for the offense of piracy.
This relates to an incident, which occurred in February 2013 when nine suspected pirates were arrested by a Dutch Frigate, which was part of the EUNAVFOR’s operation Atalanta after their unsuccessful attack on a Panama-flagged cargo vessel, M/V ALBA STAR.
The seven men were appealing the six year sentences imposed on them by the Seychelles Supreme Court, which also allowed the release of the two other suspected pirates at the time, as they were minors.
The main argument cited in the ruling of the three Court of Appeal Judges to acquit the seven men and order their repatriation to Somalia is that there was not enough evidence to support their conviction by the Supreme Court.
In a second case involving 6 other convicted pirates, the three judges were however divided in their ruling.
The 6 convicts were apprehended in August 2012 on their way to Somalia on board a Cargo vessel, named Burhan Noor along with its Pakistani crew of 14, which they had captured in the Gulf of Aden.
Five of them were appealing the 24 year sentences imposed on them while the other was appealing his 12 year sentence.
All six had been convicted on two counts firstly for “committing an act of piracy with violence or detention committed for private ends against persons on board another vessel namely Burhan Noor by unlawfully taking control of the said vessel whilst armed with firearms” and secondly for “committing an act of piracy namely voluntary participation in the operation of the above mentioned ship with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship.”
According to the ruling Judge Anthony Fernando quashed the convictions of all six and ordered their repatriated to Somalia.
Judges Twomey and Msofe who were in majority deferred in their decision ordering the acquittal and repatriation of only the fourth appellant who is considered to be a minor.
For the other five Somalis the two Judges dismissed their appeal against the guilty verdict imposed on them, however they partly allowed the appeal against the prison sentences.
The five men had been sentenced to two terms of 12 years which the Supreme Court Judge had ordered to run consecutively amounting to 24 years imprisonment for each convict. In their ruling, Judges Twomey and Msofe ruled that they will be required “to continue serving only the 12-year term of imprisonment meted in the first count,” adding that they may be repatriated to serve their remaining prison terms in Somalia.
Seychelles has played a pivotal role in countering piracy in the Indian Ocean region in recent years although pirate attacks off the vast coastline of Somalia have declined, from 236 in 2011 to two reportedly unsuccessful attacks in 2014, thanks to international counter-piracy cooperation efforts.
The Indian Ocean archipelago ended up placing itself at the forefront of the fight against piracy as the scourge which began to plague the Indian Ocean since 2005 had a direct impact on the country's tourism and fisheries sectors.
Several groups of Seychellois fishermen were also held captive and subsequently released by Somali pirates, the last being a pair of elderly fishermen who were released in 2011 after over a year spent in captivity.
Working actively with international partners including UNODC, to apprehend and prosecute suspected Somali pirates over the last six years has seen the island nation conduct 17 piracy trials, convict 138 pirates and tried 142 which is more than any other country in the region.
Most of the Somalis that have been convicted have been sent back to their homeland to serve sentences imposed on them for piracy acts committed either at the Garowe (Puntland) and Hargeysa (Somaliland) prisons.
These are two detention facilities built by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), as part of its Piracy Prisoner Transfer Programme.
According to the Seychelles Prison at Montagne Posee prison, currently there are 31 Somalis incarcerated at the detention facility. 5 of them are on remand while the 26 others are convicts including the 8 who were freed by the Court of Appeal last week.
They remain at the Montagne Posee prison awaiting repatriation which is a process involving the Seychelles authorities and other partners including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC.