NAIROBI (Reuters) - Somalia’s transitional government called on Russia on Friday to explain why it had cut 10 Somali pirates adrift in the Gulf on Aden without navigation equipment or much hope of survival.
Russian forces last week stormed a hijacked oil tanker in a rescue operation that killed one pirate. Russia said 10 others arrested were later set loose aboard one of the small vessels they used in the attack.
A military official said they were stripped of their weapons and navigation equipment. Russian media later quoted a military source saying the pirates were now likely dead.
“We want an explanation from Russia on the death of our citizens,” Abdirasak Aden, an official at Somalia’s Information Ministry, told Reuters.
“They are gangs and there is no dispute on that, but they have to get a fair trial. Dumping them in international waters was not the only choice,” he said.
Somali pirates have made tens of millions of dollars from seizing merchant vessels for ransom in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. With foreign navies patrolling the busy shipping lanes, the pirates are striking further afield.
According to the International Maritime Bureau, Somali pirates accounted for more than half the reported piracy incidents worldwide in 2009 and nearly all of the hijackings, with 47 successful captures.
Russian officials said last week the pirates were set free because there were no grounds to prosecute them in Russia and experts say bringing pirates to trial is notoriously difficult.
“Many countries either lack the right legal code to dub piracy a criminal offence or the procedural provisions to do so,” said J. Peter Pham, senior fellow and Africa Project director at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.
“Up until now, Kenya and the Seychelles have taken the majority of the caught pirates ... but over the last year, they have simply reached their limit.”
Pham said according to one U.S. tally, 706 pirates were encountered by naval vessels of the counter-piracy coalition between August 2008 and December 2009.
“Just 46 have been convicted so far and 23 acquitted. All together, that means that nearly 60 percent of the pirates encountered were simply released,” he said.
In a bid to plug this gap, a Russian-drafted resolution that suggested creating special pirate courts passed unanimously last month at the U.N. Security Council.
The resolution, a rare Russian initiative on the council, expressed concern over such cases, calling them a failure that “undermines anti-piracy efforts of the international community.”
According to one legal expert, Russia’s decision to cast the 10 Somali pirates adrift contravened its obligations to protect their lives and offer them the right to a fair trial.
“You cannot expect people to make it ashore without navigation equipment,” Deborah Akoth Osiro, a Nairobi-based legal expert, told Reuters.
“If they were actually set adrift with insufficient supply, at a range of 300 nautical miles from the shore, then Russia once again failed in its positive duty to prevent foreseeable loss of life,” she said.
Some pirates pledged revenge, insisting their comrades were executed by the Russians.
“We will deal with Russians unlike other hostages. We never think about harming a hostage, but we will reconsider that, and respond the same way their navies respond to us” said Isse, a pirate commander in the coastal town of Hobyo, told Reuters.
Editing by Jeremy Clarke and Ralph Boulton