Two Somalian men accused of trying to hijack a Japanese tanker in March 2011 pleaded guilty in a Tokyo court on Tuesday in what is the country’s first prosecution of sea piracy. The two were among four Africans arrested after trying to attack and board the ship with submachine guns while is sailed in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Oman.
The Mitsui O.S.K. Lines tanker had 24 crew members aboard, although no one was hurt in the attack. The four individuals were apprehended by the U.S. Navy, and for the first time Japan’s coastguard has used the country’s new anti-piracy law to have them extradited to Tokyo. The two men, identified as Mohamed Urgus Adeysey and Abdinur Hussein Ali, plead guilty through the use of two interpreters, one for translating Japanese to English, and a second for English to Somali. The men are said to be in their 20s or 30s, but even they are not sure of their own dates of birth.
One of the pair’s lawyers even admitted that communication was difficult due to their illiteracy and lack of basic education. He added that he has done his best to explain the situation and the charges and trial they now face, but doubts the two men have a complete understanding. In Japanese trial proceedings, prosecutors, judges, defendants and their lawyers all meet before hearings begin. One of the Somalians is said to have directly asked the judge who he was.
A formal verdict isn’t due until February 1st, but the defense lawyers are arguing that charges should be dropped because the attack didn’t take place in Japanese territory, and the tanker, which is registered in the Bahamas, isn’t technically Japanese property. The other two African men were also brought to Japan, but will be charged in a different trial as they are believed to be juveniles under Japanese law. Sea pirates from Somalia have been successfully prosecuted around the globe, including in the nations of South Korea and the Netherlands.
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