Somali pirates convicted of attacking Spanish warship

The six Somali pirates in a small motor boat surrender The Somali pirates surrendered after being pursued by a naval helicopter

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Six Somali men have been convicted of piracy by a Spanish court after they attempted to board a Spanish warship off the Somali coast in January 2012.

One of the men was sentenced to 12-and-a-half years in prison, while the other five received eight years in jail each.

During their trial in Madrid, all six men denied being pirates; they said they were fishermen who had approached the ship for help.

The men eventually surrendered after being pursued by a military helicopter.

The Spanish navy supply ship, the Patino, was taking part in the European Union's Atalante operation against piracy in the Indian Ocean when its was approached by a skiff.

According to Spanish prosecutors, the Somali crew of the skiff attempted to board the Patino just before 03:00 local time.

The Somalis - who were armed with AK-47 assault rifles and grenades - fired upon the structure of the naval ship, and there followed an exchange of fire which lasted about two minutes, said prosecutors.

Piracy reduction

The motor boat fled, and was pursued by the Patino and a naval helicopter, finally surrendering at 04:08.

All six men - Mohamed Abdullah Hassan, Mohamed Aden Mohamed, Issa Abdullah Issa, Abdillahi Mohamed Gouled, Mohamed Said Ahmed and Hamoud Elfaf Mahou - were convicted of piracy and the possession of arms.

One of the men, Hamoud Elfaf Mahou, was additionally convicted of membership of a criminal organisation, and received a longer sentence than the other five.

Last Wednesday the United Nations issued a report saying that pirate attacks off Somalia were at the lowest level since 2006 because of improved security on ships, and more Western naval patrols, as well as a shift in tactics to guerrilla warfare by al-Shabab militants onshore.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there were 17 attacks in the first nine months of 2013, compared to 99 in the same period last year.

He said that in 2012 Somali pirates collected up to $40m (£24.9m) in ransom payments.

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