Prosecutors in Malaysia have offered a group of seven suspected Somali pirates the opportunity to plea bargain, confessing to crimes lesser than those they are charged with. The charges they currently face carry the death penalty, but Malaysian prosecutors have given them a chance to avoid that penalty.
Malaysia is the fist country in Asia to bring charges against pirates from Somalia. Many European countries, and the United States, have prosecuted Somali pirates as part of the worldwide effort to deter piracy in the Indian Ocean. Most of the piracy east of Africa happens off the coast of the unstable and lawless nation of Somalia.
The pirates were facing the death penalty simply for firing weapons at authorities in the midst of committing a robbery. Three of the group are only fifteen years old, and they will not face the death penalty no matter what, because it is not legal to execute minors by hanging in Malaysia. However, the adjusted charges the whole group face is a charge of using a weapon with the intention of preventing arrest. The maximum sentence for this offense is only 14 years.
The date of their offense goes all the way back to January of last year. The trial has been extensively delayed because of difficulties finding lawyers and an interpreter for the Somalis. The trial will now be briefly adjourned while the pirates decide whether or not to accept the plea bargain. So far, the lawyers have remained quiet as to whether or not their clients would accept the deal.
The pirates, wielding AK-47’s had attempted to hijack a Singapore-bound oil tanker carrying more than $10 million in oil. Fortunately for the vessel, Malaysian maritime security authorities were nearby, and responded to the call. Naval commandos, supported by a helicopter, engaged the pirates in a shootout and wound up capturing the group.
Since 2008, the world has had to respond aggressively to the international problem of Somali piracy. The war-torn country has essentially no functioning central government, and no ability to prosecute pirates or prevent piracy in the first place. Because of this, many of the Somalis who are caught have nowhere to be tried or imprisoned.
Malaysia has decided to try the pirates to make an example out of them and show that the government is willing to go to great lengths to protect the security of its citizens.