Thursday, September 27, 2012
(Malaysian police officers escort an accused Somali pirate being held in Malaysia. Authorities in the sourth east Asian nation have extended by six days a detention order against seven Somali pirates captured by Malaysian forces last month in a raid to free a hijacked oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden.(AFP/File/Saeed Khan)
Malaysian prosecutors have offered seven suspected Somali pirates charged with offences that carry the death penalty the chance to admit lesser crimes and escape execution, their lawyer said Wednesday.
Malaysia became the first nation in Asia last year to lay charges against Somali pirate suspects, as part of growing legal moves around the world to counter the piracy crisis off the lawless east African country.
All seven were originally charged with firing at the Malaysian armed forces while committing a robbery, in January last year.
The suspects have now been offered the chance to admit a lesser charge of using a weapon with the intention of preventing their arrest, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in jail, according to lawyer for two of the accused Saranjeet Kaur Sidhu.
The long-delayed trial, held up in order to find lawyers and an interpreter for the Somalis, has now been adjourned until October 8 to allow the defendants to decide whether to accept the plea bargain, Saranjeet said.
Edmund Bon, another defence lawyer, said he could not say whether the seven would accept the deal. "It's a different charge... we have to talk to our clients," he said.
Three of the accused were aged just 15 when charged. Minors do not face the possibility of execution in Malaysia, where the death sentence is carried out by hanging.
The MT Bunga Laurel, a chemical tanker, was bound for Singapore with a cargo of lubricating oil worth more than $10 million when pirates armed with AK-47 rifles hijacked the ship.
Malaysian naval commandos from a vessel protecting shipping in the Gulf of Aden, along with a navy attack helicopter, responded to a distress call and captured the suspects after a shootout.
Piracy has surged in recent years off Somalia, a war-torn country that sits astride one of the world's most important shipping routes.
But many of those caught by international warships are freed because there is nowhere to try them.
Malaysian prosecutors have said the country has the jurisdiction to put the suspected pirates on trial since their alleged actions threatened the security of its citizens.