Eighteen Somali pirates landed in Kenya by European navies crowded into court today to hear the charges against them.
Eleven shabbily dressed men seized by French commandos in the pirate-infested seas off Somalia made their first courtroom appearance. Next door, seven other suspected pirates who were turned in by German forces earlier this month awaited their own hearing.
Both groups were seized after hot pursuits and dramatic captures. The French-taken men were caught in a pre-dawn raid on April 14. The Germans captured their seven in late March.
Magistrate Catherine Mwangi adjourned the case of the 11 until a bail hearing on May 27. Until then, they will remain in a Mombasa jail. She also ordered court officials to dress them properly for their bail hearing. The men, who appeared solemn during their court appearance, wore faded sarongs, old jackets and cheap sandals. Two had no shoes.
“I’m giving you an order that these people be dressed properly,” Ms Mwangi told court officials.
Kenya has a deal with the European Union that allows them to try suspected pirates caught by European ships off the East African coast. Pirates have been tried in Kenya before – 10 Somalis were sentenced in November 2006 to seven years in prison after the US Navy captured them.
There also are several trials currently involving suspects handed over by Britain.
The US announced in January that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Kenya to hand over any pirates it seizes to this East African nation.
A New York court is also trying its first piracy case in decades, the man involved in the attack on the US-flagged Maersk Alabama on April 8.
In a criminal complaint, prosecutors depicted Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse as the ringleader of a band of four pirates who bullied 20 crew members of the cargo ship, fired a shot at the captain and boasted of hijacking other ships.
The top charge against Muse accuses him of piracy under the law of nations, a charge not used since the 1800s. It carries a mandatory life sentence.