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Five convicted of hijacking boat

A court in Paris has convicted five Somali men of hijacking a sailing boat off the African country's coast and kidnapping its two-person crew.

In the first decision of its kind in France, the court handed down sentences of between four and eight years in prison against the five. Charges were dropped against a sixth defendant.

The trial, which opened on November 15, was France's first against alleged pirates who have made a lucrative business of capturing foreign vessels and taking hostages around the Gulf of Aden and elsewhere.

The six were on trial over the hijacking of the boat, Carre d'As, in September 2008 and taking its husband-and-wife crew hostage. A French navy team raided the vessel two weeks later, killing one kidnapper and detaining six others.

As the trial came to a close, the defendants apologised to, and exchanged handshakes, with the couple, Jean-Yves and Bernadette Delanne. One wished long lives for the Delannes while another asked for their forgiveness.

The prosecutor had sought sentences of six to 16 years in prison. The case was heard in a Paris court for minors because one of the defendants was a minor at the time of the attack.

The six defendants, now aged between 20 and 36, described themselves as fishermen, electricians, students or jobless. Three were charged with hijacking the vessel and all six charged with taking the couple hostage with the aim to win a ransom. The maximum possible penalty was life in prison.

The acquitted defendant, nicknamed "the fisherman" in the trial, is now entitled to a payment from the French state in compensation for time served in provisional custody after the navy commandos seized him.

The prosecution claimed the hijackers demanded a four million US dollar (£2.5 million) ransom, eventually lowered to two million US dollars (£1.25 million), and threatened to kill their two captives if forces intervened.

French forces have captured dozens of pirates in the area. All but a dozen have been turned over to Somalia, an impoverished east African nation without a functioning government since the ousting of its long-time dictator 20 years ago.


From Belfast Telegraph