MUMBAI — A Mumbai court Aug. 7 sentenced 16 Somali pirates to seven years in jail for hijacking a fishing vessel that had sailed from Iran in 2011 and taking the Iranian and Pakistani crew hostage.
"Sessions judge J.C. Jagdale sentenced the accused to seven years in jail for conspiracy, attempt to murder, kidnapping and offenses under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act," said special public prosecutor Ranjeet Sangle.
The court also imposed a Rs. 14,000 fine on each pirate and directed the government to deport them to Somalia after they serve their prison terms.
The judge, however, acquitted them of kidnapping for ransom – for which the maximum punishment is death – murder and offenses under the Arms Act.
While on anti-piracy patrol off the coast of Lakshadweep March 26, 2011, the Indian naval ship Suvarna was informed that the merchant vessel Maersk Kensington was attacked by pirates operating from the hijacked M.V. Morteza and two skiffs.
The INS Suvarna rushed to the spot and directed the pirate vessel to stop its engines. However, the pirates opened fire.
Retaliatory fire from the Navy caused a blaze on the M.V. Morteza. The Navy rescued its crew members – 12 Iranians and four Pakistanis – and took 16 Somali pirates into custody.
The M.V. Morteza had set sail from Chah Bahar in Iran with 18 crew members. Pirates hijacked it near the Seychelles, took it to Somalia and then rigged it up as a 'mother vessel' from which piracy attacks could be launched.
The crew was kept captive on board, and witnessed several piracy attempts, the prosecution said.
One of the crew members committed suicide due to torture, while pirates shot another dead when the INS Suvarna was approaching.
The Navy and the Indian Coast Guard arrested a total of 120 pirates between January and March 2011. All of them were handed over to the Yellow Gate police in Mumbai and tried in a Mumbai court.
One of them died during the trial. All others pleaded guilty.
On Aug. 2, the court had sentenced 15 pirates to seven years in jail. Judgments in remaining two cases are awaited.