Seven Somali hijackers, including three minors, face a possible death sentence under Malaysian law for attempting to hijack a Malaysian vessel in the Gulf of Aden.
They were produced before a magistrate's court in Kuala Lumpur and charged with discharging their firearms at Malaysian commandos. The offence, under Section 3 of the Firearms Act (Increased Penalties) 1971, carries the death penalty.
The charge against them was read out by a Somali student from the University Utara Malaysia.
In bringing them here after rescuing the vessel and booking them, Malaysia is following in the steps of the US, Germany and the Netherlands which have charged foreign pirates who attacked their vessels in international waters.
The pirates were identified as Ahmed Othman Jamal (25) Abdil Eid Hasan (20) Koore Mohamed Abdile (18), and Abdi Hakim Mohd Abdi (18). The names of three 15-year-old juveniles were not announced.
The seven were charged with firing at commandos with the intention of causing death or harm in an attempted robbery on the MT Bunga Laurel tanker in the Gulf of Aden Jan 20.
No plea was recorded from the seven who were unrepresented.
Deputy public prosecutor Mohamad Abazafree Mohammed Abas submitted to the court a signed certificate by Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail, which declared that the case could be tried here, as the offence was committed against Malaysian citizens.
Magistrate Siti Shakirah Mohtarudin set March 15 for mention to allow the court to appoint a Somali interpreter and transfer the case to the high court for trial.
The seven Somalis accused were alleged to have boarded the MT Bunga Laurel armed with guns, with the intention to hijack the tanker. On board were 23 Filipino crew members. The tanker, laden with lubricating oil and ethylene dichloride, was on its way to Singapore when the pirates struck.
Commandos from a Royal Malaysian Navy auxiliary ship stormed the tanker and a shootout ensued between the pirates and the commandos. The commandos overpowered the pirates and brought them here to face trial.
Malaysia is not the only country to prosecute Somali pirates. Last November, a court in Virginia, United States, sentenced Jama Idle Ibrahim to 30 years' jail for his role in an attack on a US navy vessel.
In the same month, a Virginia jury also sentenced five Somalis to life imprisonment for their roles in the attack on the US frigate.
Also last November, 10 Somalis were charged in Germany's first piracy trial in 400 years for hijacking a Hamburg-registered ship in the Gulf of Aden.
Last year, in June, five Somali pirates were jailed for five years by the Netherlands for attacking a cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden -- the first conviction of its kind in Europe.