First Somali tried for piracy in Belgium denies charges
The first Somali to be tried for piracy in Belgium on Wednesday denied all involvement in the 2009 hijacking of a Belgian frigate eventually released after payment of ransom.
"I was never on board the Pompei", Omar Mohammed Abdiwahad, described as being "around 18 years old" told a Brussels court.
The alleged pirate was captured in November 2010 off the Kenya coast by a Belgian ship taking part in a European Union counter-piracy mission, while attacking a vessel flying the Sierra Leone flag, freighted by the World Food Programme (WFP).
Judicial authorities said he had been identifed as one of the assailants of the Pompei by three of its crew and that his fingerprints had been found on the ship, seized in April 2009 off the coast of Somalia.
The Pompei, along with its Dutch captain and crew of two Belgians, three Filipinos and four Croatians, was released in June 2009 after an undisclosed ransom was paid. The daily Le Soir said it amounted to 1.94 million euros.
The Belgian interior minister said at the time the pirates had initially demanded eight million dollars but had reached agreement with the owners of the ship after 68 days of negotiations.
The suspect, the first accused pirate to be tried in Belgium since an anti-piracy law was passed in 2009, faces 30 years in jail if found guilty.
Two of the crew from the Pompei are claiming damages in a separate civil suit, with their lawyers saying they still suffer from the "physical and moral" consequences of captivity.
A spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, Lieve Pellens, said the conditions were harsh for captives aboard the boat "with pretend executions whenever negotiations weren't going well."
© 2011 AFP