By Park Si-soo
The leader of a group of Somali pirates was sentenced to life in prison for the attempted murder of the captain of a hijacked South Korean vessel, maritime robbery and six other charges, Friday.
Three other pirates were cleared of attempted murder, but were found guilty of the seven other charges being sentenced to 13 to 15 years. They can appeal the ruling by June 3.
The fifth pirate, who had his case heard separately because he pleaded guilty to all charges, will be sentenced on June 1.
“It was true that the leader, Mahomed Arai, attempted to kill the captain Seok Hae-kyun, by shooting him since gunshots were heard right after Arai entered the wheelhouse where the captain was detained with an AK-47 assault rifle. A piece of a bullet from the rifle found in the captain’s thigh is the evidence for the ruling,” said Judge Kim Jin-seok at the Busan District Court. “But the evidence provided by the prosecution was insufficient to prove the other three pirates had conspired to kill the captain.”
The four were all convicted of using crew members as human shields during a rescue operation on the South Korean-operated chemical carrier Samho Jewelry by Korean commandos in the Arabian Sea in January.
The verdict came five hours after the final hearing was over at around 3:30 p.m., in which the accused denied all charges. In the hearing, the prosecution sought capital punishment for the leader and life imprisonment for Abdikhad Iman Ali, Abdullah Ali and Aul Brallat.
The five pirates were arrested in a dramatic rescue operation on Jan. 21 by the commandos on the hijacked vessel. Eight pirates were killed in the raid. The assault force rescued all 21 crew members, but the ship's captain was wounded during the raid.
The four captured pirates have been on trial since Monday, while the fifth, who pled guilty to all charges, had his case heard separately. The injured captain is in stable condition in hospital after multiple operations.
In the high-profile trial that has drawn international attention, prosecutors claimed that Arai shot Seok and used other crew members as human shields, citing the other defenders’ statements that they saw Arai carrying the assault rifle, and heard gunshots after he entered the wheelhouse where Seok was detained.
Prosecutors have claimed the captain was injured by bullets fired from the rifle. They presented the court with crew members’ statements as evidence that they were forced to move onto the bridge of the ship in a barrage of bullets from Korean commandos.
Lawyers representing the pirates refuted the claims. They said nobody witnessed Arai shooting the captain first hand and only a fragment of an AK-47 bullet was found in the captain’s body.