The complex world of how to deal with Somali pirate issue is revealed in a recent French case. French cruising sailors from Tahiti Bernadette and Jean-Yves Delanne, of the yacht Carre d'As IV, have delivered their own verdict on some of the pirates who abducted them back in September 2008. In particular they acquitted one, Abdulahi Ahmed Guelleh, whom they claimed was a genuine fisherman caught up in the events.
The court agreed with them, and he was acquitted. However, since he was turfed out of prison on 30th November (he did not want to leave, having nowhere to go) after an amazing three years and two months in jail on remand, he lives off charity waiting for his acquittal to be confirmed.
The prosecution had presented the six alleged pirates as dangerous terrorists, but the trial revealed that they were just following the orders of a powerful local man, who was identified but never investigated.
In court, Delanne, an experienced sailor, remarked on their amateurism: 'They were seasick,' he said.
His wife added: 'They weren’t at all prepared. They had nothing on them [apart from weapons]'.
They both described how the hijackers looked scared when Delanne got angry. He even managed to impose strict rules (no smoking in the cabin or eating on deck) and taught them fishing techniques.
When they were looking for petrol, he suggested they ask the local fishermen.
The end of the trial was described as surreal, with the victims kissing their abductors and wishing them 'a new and happy life'.
Delanne delivered his own verdict: 'I always said Guelleh had nothing to do with our abduction.' The others were guilty, he said, but were just 'kids out of their depth.'
The authorities did not appreciate his or the jury’s leniency. The public prosecutor appealed against the sentences and Guelleh’s acquittal. After being in jail on remand in France for the 38 months before the trial, Guelleh now languishes, frightened, knowing very little about France and not speaking the language.
'He is completely lost. Everything is foreign to him here, particularly the language,' his lawyer, Florent Loyseau de Grandmaison told Le Monde Diplomatique. It is hardly surprising he feels lost: his only experience of France has been prison walls, warders and the violence of other inmates. 'His situation is unprecedented,' said his lawyer. 'He finds himself in a country he did not want to come to, with no identity papers or proof of having entered the country, and which he cannot leave.'
Guelleh and five compatriots were arrested by the French military in the early hours of 16 September 2008 on board the 16-metre ketch, the Carré d’As IV, which had been hijacked two weeks earlier with the French couple on board. One Somali was killed in the raid. The other six were held in unclear circumstances by the French army for a week, then flown to Paris.
Only two of them had taken part in the attack on the Carré d’As. The others had joined them when they had changed crews, and at stops along the African coast. Guelleh only arrived the day before the commando raid: he had been fishing in the area when the yacht’s hijackers told him to give them some fish, before persuading him to spend the night on board.
While Guelleh was acquitted, his five co-accused were sentenced to between four and eight years, far less than the prosecution had demanded. An appeal is pending, so Guelleh must wait an even longer time for his nightmare to be over.