Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian prosecutors filed
charges carrying the death penalty today against seven
suspected Somali pirates accused of attacking a
Malaysian-operated ship in the Gulf of Aden, in the first such
charges in Asia against the African sea bandits.
The Somalis some as young as 15 years old are
suspected of taking 23 Filipino crew members captive aboard a
chemical tanker on January 20. Malaysian naval commandos
responsible for protecting the vessel stormed it less than two
hours later and freed the crew. The pirates shot at the
commandos, but no injuries were reported.
The Somalis were brought to Malaysia, where government
lawyers today charged them with using firearms against
Malaysian armed forces personnel with the intention of causing
death or hurt.
The charge carries a penalty of death by hanging, but
prosecutors said that if convicted, three of the Somalis are
expected to have their sentences commuted to prison terms
because they are minors.
The Somalis looked grim while handcuffed behind their
backs and wearing bright orange overalls at the Kuala Lumpur
Magistrate`s Court. They did not immediately enter any plea.
The court scheduled a preliminary hearing March 15.
"The fact that we charged them (means) we have a good
case," prosecutor Mohamad Abazafree Abbas said.
South Korea and India also are holding dozens of
pirate suspects expected to be charged soon. South Korean
authorities have said five captured Somalis could face up to
life imprisonment for hijacking a ship last month, requesting
a ransom and attempting to kill the captain.
The efforts to prosecute suspects signal a tougher
stance among countries fed up with persistent piracy off the
coast of Somalia which includes one of the world`s busiest
shipping lanes. Sea attacks have been rampant since the Horn
of Africa nation`s government collapsed in 1991.
Many suspected pirates detained by navies are released
after being disarmed because some nations are reluctant to
bear the cost of putting them on trial and imprisoning them,
while others fear that suspects might seek to claim asylum.
"We commend the Malaysian government`s decision to
prosecute the pirates," said Noel Choong, who heads the
International Maritime Bureau`s piracy reporting centre in