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Seychelles serves up African justice for Somali pirates

The Seychelles convicted 11 Somali pirates Monday and joined other small Indian Ocean countries in asking the European Union to fund a regional naval force to combat piracy. Is this emerging as an African solution?

By Matthew ClarkStaff writer / July 27, 2010



The Seychelles convicted 11 Somali pirates Monday in the first-ever ruling of its kind for an archipelagic nation off the coast of east Africa best known for its white sand beaches and crystal blue water.

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Eight of the Somalis were convicted for committing an act of piracy and the other three for aiding and abetting an act of piracy. They were all acquitted on five other charges related to "acts of terrorism," but each will serve 10 years in prison, said a statement issued Monday by Seychelles' Supreme Court.

The convictions "will serve as a deterrent for prospective Somali pirates who would otherwise have thought that they would have come into Seychelles waters with impunity," according to a statement by the department of legal affairs. "There are 29 other suspected and accused Somali pirates who are still awaiting trial in Seychelles or transfer from the Republic of Seychelles to Somalia."

IN PICTURES: Somali pirates

So what, you say? That's a drop in the bucket. There are thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – more Somali pirates trying at this very moment to strike it rich by capturing international vessels to extract millions of dollars in ransom payments. How does the jailing of 11 pirates actually make a dent in the problem? After all, they'll be out in 10 years, perhaps ready to ply the briny deep once more.

Well, you have to start somewhere. And most Western countries have been reluctant to put Somali pirates on trial due to the vagaries associated with trying them in Western courts, along with concerns over cost, time, and the worry that Somalis could file asylum claims.

Fellow African countries, such as Kenya – which has a sizable Somali population, some of whom, as the Monitor has reported, collude with the pirates – have been equally uninterested in trying Somalis. In May, Kenya threatened to nix its agreement to prosecute pirates if other nations did not help share the burden.

So the fact that the Seychelles has demonstrated the ability to try and convict Somali pirates shows a hint of an African solution to an African problem. If more countries in the region pitch in with efforts to convict and jail pirates – thanks to donor money that's now funding maximum security prisons and piracy courts in places like Kenya – fewer international navies will have to release pirates they capture for lack of clarity over which country will prosecute them. That's currently common practice, much to the chagrin of everyone involved in shipping goods through the vast region the pirates now troll.

Meanwhile, smaller Indian Ocean countries in the area – namely The Comoros, Mauritius, Madagascar, the Seychelles and France’s Reunion territory – are asking the European Union to help fund a joint regional naval force to combat piracy.

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