Somalia: Six jailed for 'pirate ransom' cash

A Somali pirate (archive image from 2010)
Image caption Piracy is a lucrative business in Somalia

Somalia has jailed three Britons, two Kenyans and an American for bringing more than $3m (£2m) in cash illegally into the country, allegedly to pay ransoms to pirates for ships they hold.

The two men accused of carrying the cash received 15-year sentences; the others got 10 years.

The men were arrested on 24 May shortly after they landed at the airport in the capital, Mogadishu.

The UN says more than $110m in ransoms were paid to Somali pirates last year.

The Somali government officially opposes the payment of ransoms, but the practice has become routine.

The two men jailed for 15 years were also fined $15,000 (£9,000) each. The other four men - two pilots and their assistants - received $10,000 (£6,000) fines alongside their jail terms.

This is the first time Westerners have been sentenced for involvement in delivering ransoms. It is not clear why this group of men fell foul of the authorities.

Asked about possible pardons or parole, information ministry spokesman Abdifitah Abdinur said: "Everything is possible and I can't comment on the future."

Benadir regional court judge Hashi Ilmi Nur told the BBC that foreigners could appeal against convictions to Somalia's high court.

The Foreign Office in London has said it is aware of the verdicts and has told the authorities in Mogadishu to ensure the safety and security of the group while legal options are considered.

"We are in touch with the families and are providing consular assistance," a UK Foreign Office statement said.

"We understand that the president has issued an instruction ordering that the group are not to be moved from the relative safety of the airport; we are seeking assurances from the government to this effect."