Originally published 12 August 2011
Today the district court of Rotterdam in the Netherlands passed judgement on the case of five Somali men suspected of committing piracy. The court handed down prison sentences ranging from four and a half to seven years.
The indictments against the five suspects included, among other things, the charge that they were all involved in the hijacking of the South African sailing yacht “Choizil”. All suspects were arrested in the Gulf of Aden by a Dutch naval vessel in November 2010. Soon thereafter they were transferred to the Netherlands in order to stand trial.
Three of the five suspects were found guilty of piracy. Enacting on their premeditated plan of hijacking ships by force, they headed out on the open seas whilst navigating a couple of small boats. They were heavily armed, carrying machine guns and bazookas. Because of their timely arrest by the Dutch navy, this group of pirates had not yet hijacked any ship. Their alleged involvement in the violent capture of the Choizil could not be proven. All of the suspects were arrested two weeks after the hijacking of the Choizil, making the burden of proof more challenging for the prosecution in this matter. However, two of the five pirates could be linked directly to the hijacking of the Choizil and were thusly convicted and sentenced.
In its judgement the court has noted that pirates often use extreme violence, leading to tremendous suffering among the crew members whom they take hostage in order to collect ransom moneys. The court has emphasized that piracy in the Gulf of Aden has turned into a significant threat for all ships that frequent that region. The free and unfettered transport of cargo, resources and fuels can no longer be guaranteed. Global economic consequences can no longer be ruled out.
The court has also reflected on the particularly harsh circumstances in Somalia. Armed conflicts are a daily occurrence. Currently, the region is being hit by one of the worst cases of famine in decades. All five suspects have described to the court as to how these circumstances have also impacted their own lives. However, the court has ruled that none of those circumstances, no matter how grave, can and may be accepted as any justification for committing acts of piracy.
In considering the penalty, the court has held that the professional manner in which the piracy was organized is an aggravating circumstance. The court has considered that detention for all five suspects will for them be more demanding than detention for a random person who is arrested in the Netherlands. This mitigating circumstance has only led to a minimal reduction in the penalty. The court explained that it was, after all, the suspects’ own behaviour which led them to being arrested abroad and subsequently detained in the Netherlands.
The legal jurisdiction of the court was not challenged in these proceedings. In a previous case regarding Somali pirates, this court had already decided that such legal jurisdiction exists (LNJ BM8116). The Netherlands has vested so-called universal jurisdiction in its Criminal Code whenever piracy is involved. This is in accordance with international treaties.
Note to the press: two of the five verdicts (coded LJN BR4930 and LJN BR4931) are published on the website of the Dutch Judiciary www.rechtspraak.nl