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Conference split on fate of captured Somali pirates

world Updated: May 19, 2009 11:35 IST

The fate of captured Somali pirates has split opinion at an international conference in Kuala Lumpur, with some saying the bandits should be fed to the sharks while others advocated a special tribunal.

There was no dispute though that the lack of a legal framework for the foreign naval patrols trying to bring order to the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden is hampering the fight against high-seas piracy.

"Over 100 pirates have been caught. There have been some cases where the pirates have been returned to Somalia. This sends the wrong signal," said Pottengal Mukundan, director of the London-based International Maritime Bureau.

"What may be required is an over-arching arrangement so that navy ships can hand over caught pirates for prosecution to a neighbouring country. It is important to have this plan. Pirates have to be arrested and prosecuted."

Oleg Bushuev, division chief at the defence ministry of Russia, which has warships cruising the troubled region, said it was pushing for the establishment of an international court.

"We have to have some international legal system to prosecute pirates," he said on the sidelines of the meeting in the Malaysian capital.

"For example when we seize the pirates in the Gulf of Aden, we can impose our law. It takes two weeks to sail back to Russia, but at the same time our law states a suspect can only be detained for 48 hours."

However, one maritime expert who declined to be named said that an international tribunal was impractical and too expensive.

"These offences committed by pirates are not crimes against humanity. It is not applicable because of the huge cost. You need to have judges, a location to house the court and detention centers to house the pirates," he said.
Abdul Wahid Mohamad, director of the fisheries ministry in the breakaway Somali state of Puntland, which is a major piracy hub, said pirates should not be negotiated with.

"The solution is to tackle and eliminate them at sea," he told AFP.
"You need to combat the pirates. The government of Puntland and its elders have endorsed the immediate execution of the pirates. You execute them on the high seas and feed them to the sharks."

Calls for more concerted action have risen as attacks off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden have escalated -- watchdogs say there have been 114 attempted hijackings so far this year, compared to 111 over the whole of 2008.