Somali pirates in French court over fatal hijacking
Seven suspected Somali pirates accused of hijacking a French yacht, killing its owner and putting his wife through a hellish kidnapping ordeal, appeared in a Paris court on Tuesday.
Evelyne Colombo, 58, stared straight ahead as the seven men accused of killing her husband Christian in 2011 walked into the Paris courtroom.
The suspects, aged between 25 and 32, addressed the court through an interpreter.
"I was a fisherman when there were still fish in the sea," said Fahran Abdisalam Hassan.
Others have given their professions as policeman, taxi driver and even "coolie" -- a old colonial-era term meaning "porter".
They face possible life imprisonment if convicted in a trial which is due to last a fortnight.
The Colombos had sold everything to make their dream voyage around the world.
They left the Yemen port of Aden in early September 2011 and were heading for Oman -- a journey that took them through notoriously pirate-infested waters -- when naval authorities received a distress signal from their "Tribal Kat" catamaran.
A German frigate found the boat several hours later. There were bullet holes in the deck and a pair of glasses lying in a pool of blood. No one was onboard.
Two days later, a Spanish warship located the skiff believed to belong to the pirates. They tried to approach but turned away when the attackers dragged Evelyne Colombo into view, a gun to her head.
The Spanish military prepared a raid and attacked a few hours later, leaving two pirates dead and the remaining seven under arrest.
Evelyne Colombo told her rescuers that her husband's body had been dumped into the sea. It was never found.
She had spent a nightmarish 48 hours with the pirates, kept under a tarpaulin, drenched by waves and in constant fear of death.
- 'War, hunger, hell' -
"War... hunger... for these men to be properly judged, the court must understand the hell from which they have come," one of their lawyers, Martin Reynaud previously told AFP, saying this could only explain rather than excuse their actions.
The accused have claimed the two men killed during the military assault -- identified as "Shine" and "Abdullahi Yare" -- were the leaders of the operation, according to a police source.
The investigators believe Yare was most likely the killer, but that all members of the gang were motivated by the desire to attack boats and claim ransoms through kidnapping.
The dramatic decline in piracy off the Somali coast means the trial could be the last in Europe for some time.
The European Union's military counter-piracy mission "Atalante" saw zero vessels pirated over the past three years, compared with a peak of 47 in 2010.
International naval patrols, increased security on boats and the jailing of over a thousand pirates around the world have greatly reduced the threat, although experts warn that illegal fishing off Somalia's coast is again threatening local livelihoods and could push communities back to piracy.
The desire for ransoms means murders have been relatively rare in Somali piracy cases. This would be the first such case to feature a murder out of four that have come to trial in France.
In 2009, the French skipper of the "Tanit" was killed by friendly fire during a raid to rescue his ship from pirates.
© 2016 AFP