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Young Somali pirates offered amnesty amid 'drastic' fall in attacks

Farah Abdi Warsameh / AP file

Masked pirate Hassan stands near a Taiwanese fishing vessel that washed up on shore near Hobyo, Somalia, after pirates were paid a ransom and released the crew in September 2012.

Somalia’s president has offered an amnesty to young pirates amid a "drastic" fall in the number of attacks off East Africa.

In an interview with the AFP news agency Wednesday, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said that he wanted to offer an "alternative means of earning a living" to young Somalis caught up in the lucrative business of hijacking ships and yachts, then ransoming the passengers and crew.

"We have been negotiating with the pirates indirectly through the elders," Mohamud said. "Piracy has to end."

But he stressed the amnesty offer did not apply to senior pirates. “We are not giving them amnesty, the amnesty is for the boys,” he said

Captain Pottengal Mukundan, director of the International Maritime Bureau, which monitors piracy, said Thursday that there had been a "very drastic decrease" in the number of attacks of East Africa.

He said there had been just two attacks in the area so far this year, compared to 30 in January and February last year, a trend he described as "very, very positive."

The two recent attacks were unsuccessful and suspects in both incidents were later apprehended by international naval forces that patrol the seas off the Horn of Africa.

However, Mukundan stressed that "we cannot become complacent."

"There’s still a very high possibility that, if the guard is let down, attacks will happen," he said.

'Alternative jobs'
He said the naval presence in the area was one of the main reasons behind the drop in attacks.

Mukundan said pirates known to be guilty of attacks should be prosecuted, but added that an amnesty had worked well when it was tried in Nigeria in 2010.

"A number of militants who also doubled up as pirates and robbers did law down their weapons and look for alternative jobs," he said.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement that five Somali men had been found guilty of "engaging in piracy and committing other offenses" in an attack on the USS Ashland on April 10, 2010.

According to their defense, the men were returning home in a skiff after taking refugees from Somalia to Yemen. The lawyers said they needed help and an AK-47 was fired toward Ashland to get its attention. Ashland returned fire, killing one and setting the skiff on fire.

"These men were pirates — plain and simple," U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride said in the statement. "They attacked a ship hoping to hold it ransom for millions of dollars. Few crimes are older than piracy on the high seas, and today’s verdict shows that the United States takes it very seriously."

George Venizelos, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, said the five men were "headed where they belong: to federal prison."

"Let this send a clear message of deterrence to anyone who threatens those who traverse the high seas," he said.

The five, who face life in prison, are due to be sentenced in July.


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