A Malaysian court indicted seven Somali men on charges of piracy and attacking Malaysian security forces during a commando raid aimed at freeing a Malaysian-operated tanker they had hijacked in the Gulf of Aden last month. The seven have been charged under Malaysia's Section 3 of the Firearms (Increased Penalties) 1971, which carries a mandatory death penalty. But three of the accused will be spared the death penalty as they are just 15 years old.
The seven Somalis were arrested after Malaysian forces raided tanker MT Bunga Laurel, which was hijacked by pirates along with its crew of 23 in the Gulf of Aden on January 20. The Singapore-bound tanker was carrying a cargo of lubricating oil worth more than $10 million when it was seized.
The suspects had surrendered after a brief gun-battle with the Malaysian security forces. Only three of the suspected pirates were injured in the raid, which resulted in their capture and the release of the tanker and its crew. The suspects were then brought to Malaysia on January 31 to stand trial.
Though Somali pirates have been captured in anti-piracy operations conducted by other Asian countries, Malaysia became the first country in the Asian continent to charge the captured pirates formally.
Earlier this month, Indian navy had captured 28 suspected Somali pirates in an operation conducted in the Indian Ocean. They have since been taken to the Indian city of Mumbai to stand trial. They, along with 15 other Somali pirates captured off the coast of the southern Indian state of Kerala late last year, are awaiting trial.
Last month, commandos on board a South Korean naval vessel deployed off Somali coast for anti-piracy operations had captured five Somali pirates during a raid that resulted in the freeing of a hijacked South Korean chemical carrier. The captured pirates were then taken to South Korea, but their trial is yet to begin.
Despite these successful anti-piracy operations, piracy is still on the rise along Somalia's coast, Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. Last week, suspected Somali pirates had seized a Greek supertanker carrying crude oil worth $200 million off the Omani coast. That hijack came barely 24 hours after an Italian oil tanker was seized by pirates in the Indian Ocean.
Somalia's coastline, particularly the Gulf of Aden, has been infested with piracy in recent years. Pirates are presently believed to be holding 29 vessels and 693 hostages off the Somali coast. The incidents mostly end with payment of ransom after lengthy negotiations, but generally without any fatalities.
Pirate attacks off the Somali coast and in the Indian Ocean continue despite the presence of several warships deployed by navies of the NATO, the European Union, Russia, China, South Korea and India to protect cargo and cruise ships against piracy.
The pirates have recently extended their operations deep into the Indian Ocean to avoid interception by international anti-piracy forces conducting regular patrols in the Gulf of Aden, off the Somali coast and parts of the Indian Ocean.
Last year, the EU anti-piracy force operating in the region, the EU NAVFOR, had announced that it was extending the area covered by its current operations off the coast of Somalia in an effort to counter the pirates' tactics of shifting operations into new areas to avoid detection.