Somali pirates' trial begins in the Netherlands
A Dutch court is the first in a Western country expected to pass a verdict on alleged Somali pirates. The case involving the Samanyolu cargo ship started in Rotterdam on Tuesday.
Sayid lifted his hands to his head as he raised his voice. "It is no good to me if you keep postponing my case," he said, an interpreter translating his Somali with a characteristic Arab accent. "We have children at home." He pointed to his four fellow suspects sitting next to him. "I don't know who in my family is still alive." He lowered his hands to his lap and started to cry.
Born in 1970, Sayid is one of five Somalis on trial in the Netherlands for attacking the Samanyolu cargo ship on January 2, 2009. His tears during the first day in court on Tuesday came after a request from his own attorney, who asked the judge to delay the case. Nancy Schepens said she needed more time to question the Turkish crew of the Netherlands Antilles ship that was the target of the attempted hijacking in the Gulf of Aden. The seven Turkish and Azeri sailors on the Samanyolu were rescued by the Danish navy, which also apprehended the suspects and handed over the suspects to the Netherlands in February 2009.
The story that began on the high seas with machine guns, grapple ladders and outboard motors thus ended thousands of kilometres away under striplights in room 35 of the Rotterdam district court.
The court is to rule on June 16, making the Netherlands the first Western country to present a verdict on the alleged Somali pirates that have become a serious threat to international sea transport.
Sayid and his compatriots stand accused of piracy, a crime that, in the Netherlands, can lead to 12 years in prison for the leader of the attack, and nine for the other perpetrators. Three of their five attorneys requested that the court adjourn the case because they want to question the crew of the Samanyolu.
One of the other two, Reinier Feiner, chose not to participate in the appeal. This lawyer would like to hear the witnesses as much as his fellows do, he said, but he was struggling with a dilemma. His client, Jama (1965), is suffering in his Dutch prison cell. Feiner is the only person who visits Jama, who he said is illiterate, since the only family he has is in Somalia. "More than anything, my client wants a verdict to be delivered," Feiner said. "He wants to go home and get on with his life."
A future in the Netherlands?
Willem-Jan Ausma also suggested the case be dealt with as soon as possible. His client, Yusuf (1985), also wants to know where he stands. He does not, however, plan to go back to Somalia. Yusuf hopes to build a future in the Netherlands, which his lawyer said he loves. Whether he is found guilty or not, Yusuf plans to bring his wife and children to the Netherlands. Experts in the field of Dutch asylum and immigration law have raised their doubts about whether he can.
The case against the five is built partly on statements taken from the Danish navy officers who responded to a call for help from the Samanyolu crew. The navy also picked up the Somalis, whose little vessel had caught fire after a member of the Samanyolu crew threw a Molotov cocktail at them, allegedly in self-defence.
The lawyers trying to postpone the case want to go to Turkey to question the crew members on this issue. All seven of them have given statements, but the attorneys were only able to talk personally to one of them. In March, this sailor, Vedat, said it was his colleagues who had started shooting rockets, contradicting the crew’s earlier statements, which stated that they had been attacked first. This is reason enough for three of the lawyers to want to ask more questions.
A logistical problem
Prosecutor Henny Baan said the court's commissioner had tried everything possible to put the attorneys in touch with the seamen, but Vedat was the only one who had shown up when they were in Turkey in March. Four had already returned to sea -- a logistical problem unlikely to be solved soon, Baan said.
The prosecutor felt further strengthened by the questioning of the suspects themselves in February last year. In their first police interview, they admitted they had left shore to hijack a ship. No lawyers were present in that initial interview, a reason for some to ask the judge to declare it non-admissible.
On Tuesday, after adjourning for a short while, the judge decided not to adjourn the case against the Somalis. It will continue as planned on Wednesday.