Tuesday, April 14, 2009

We are not pirates, we are warriors!

“We are not pirates, but we are defending our country. There are a lot of ships that throw poisonous rubbish into our territorial waters and go back loaded with our fish,” Ahmed Abdullah Musa, 26, leader of the 12-member group captured by the Indian ship, said during an interview at the Aden prison last week.

Somali ‘pirates’ face trial in Yemen

Mohammed al Qadhi, Foreign Correspondent


The piracy suspect Ahmed Abdullah Musa, centre, speaks to The National at the central jail in Aden. Mohammed al Qadhi / The National

ADEN // Yemen is expected to soon bring to trial a group of suspected Somali pirates captured during the past year.

“We have started interrogating 12 Somali pirates. There is evidence to be presented to court including some seized weapons. Once the Al Tawahi [district] prosecution finishes its investigation and interrogation, they will be presented to court,” said a prosecutor in Aden, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media. He said the pirates will appear before a state security court soon but did not provide further details.

There are 22 alleged Somali pirates being held in the central prison of the southern port city of Aden and another seven in the south-eastern city of Mukalla.

A Russian navy ship captured 10 Somalis on Feb 28 about 297.7 kilometres from Socotra island in the Indian Ocean, Bakeel Hamzah, operations manager of the Yemen Coast Guard in Aden, said. Seven others were handed over to Yemen by a Danish warship last December, and Mr Hamzah said an Indian ship turned in 12 more the same month.

“The Russian forces handed them over to us with their seized weapons including five Kalashnikovs, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and some ammunition. They had also a small, fast boat used in piracy activities,” he said.

“What they are doing is damaging both Yemen and the international economy. This is robbery and must be stopped.”

The issue of piracy in the Gulf of Aden has attracted international attention in the past two years. There were 62 attacks in the first nine months of 2008, according to the International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre. Last month saw a spike in pirate activity off the east coast of Somalia with 15 attacks on vessels reported, the centre said.

Some of those in custody object to being labelled pirates and say they are simply protecting both their right to make a living and the coastline of Somalia.

“We are not pirates, but we are defending our country. There are a lot of ships that throw poisonous rubbish into our territorial waters and go back loaded with our fish,” Ahmed Abdullah Musa, 26, leader of the 12-member group captured by the Indian ship, said during an interview at the Aden prison last week.

“We are just young people associating ourselves to defend the sea and fish of Somalia,” he said. “It is not our job to be pirates but we are trying to stop the acts of such ships. It is my duty to defend our sea as there is no local government. Some years ago, our income from fishing was good. But when international soldiers and ships started entering our sea, they have taken everything. We have appealed to the international community to stop looting our fish, but there was no action. The sea is empty of fish. Where do we go and how can we live?”

His colleague, Farahan Hasan Wafa, 30, said they were captured in their first attempt at piracy, although they would not say exactly what they did.

“Life is difficult in Somalia due to lack of jobs, and everybody tries to go to the sea for a living. We did not attack any ship or get any ransom for we have just started the job. The people who get ransom will never do this again for they have the money to live comfortably.

“When the Indian ship captured us, we had fish on our boat. They threw our fish into the sea, beat us up harshly and handed us over to Yemen and now we are in this jail,” Mr Wafa said.

“It is true that the looting of Somali fish wealth by some Arab and foreign ships is one of the reasons behind piracy,” said Jalal al Sharabi, a journalist who has followed the Somali pirate situation for several years. “Somalia has a long sea shore that used to offer a good source for income for many people via fishing. But, most of the fishermen who lost their source of income turned to piracy.” He said that by handing over the alleged pirates to Yemen, the international community is forgoing its responsibility towards war-torn Somalia and its people.

“You know, the international community left Somalia alone for almost two decades. We find that those pirates are young people who were born without knowing what a state means,” he said. “Pirates are basically tribal people in Somalia. Some of them go to the sea while others stay inside Somalia to conduct negotiations with owners of hijacked ships or boats. Piracy is becoming a profitable business and this is why some Somali people living in Europe and Kenya have a hand in piracy activities.”

Back at the Aden prison, Mr Musa complained about the way he and the others were being treated and said he hoped the court ruled soon. “We have been here for three months without any trial. We are ready for court, but let it be a quick court and get us out of this difficult life we have here.

“We appeal to the [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] to provide us with mattresses and a lawyer.”

Khalid al Anisi, a lawyer and a human rights activist, said Yemeni law prohibits holding people without trial. “It is prohibited in the Yemeni law to hold people for more than 24 hours without trial.

“The government should send them to court to decide about their position or set them free.”