Africa

Somali pirates jailed in Netherlands for Choizil hijack

An armed Somali pirate (archive image)
Image caption Piracy has flourished off the coast of Somalia

A Dutch court has sentenced two Somali pirates who hijacked a South African yacht last November to up to seven years in jail.

The men were convicted of seizing the boat off Tanzania and abducting a South African couple, who remain missing.

Three other Somalis - captured at the same time - were also convicted of piracy, although their involvement in the hijack could not be proven.

It is the second time a Dutch court has sentenced Somali pirates.

"During the attack on the (yacht) Choizil, extreme violence was used," Judge Jacco Janssen was cited by AFP news agency as saying.

"The crew thought their last hour had arrived."

Pirates' professionalism

The five men were caught two weeks after the hijack by the Dutch navy in the Gulf of Aden, heavily armed with machine guns and bazookas, the court said.

One crew member on board the yacht, the Choizil, was rescued, but the two others were taken ashore as hostages.

The couple, Bruno Pelizzari and Deborah Calitz - whose captors demanded a $10m (£6m) ransom - have not been heard from since.

The sentences handed to the five pirates ranged from four-and-a-half to seven years imprisonment.

In court, the judges dismissed arguments that the men were driven to their crimes by poverty and famine, but spoke of the professionalism of the pirates to organise violent attacks on ships.

"The court has emphasised that piracy in the Gulf of Aden has turned into a significant threat for all ships that frequent the region," said a statement from the court.

"Global economic consequences can no longer be ruled out."

Somalia has had no functioning central government since 1991, allowing piracy to flourish off its coast.

Somali pirates have made millions of dollars in recent years by capturing cargo vessels in the shipping lanes around the Horn of Africa and holding the ships and crew for ransom.

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