By Eoin O’Cinneide in London | TRADEWINDS
Strict Spanish law, a public holiday in Kenya and a lack of legal frameworks conspired to set free seven pirates who attacked an Odfjell-chartered tanker this week.
The release of the Somali men who assaulted the 40,100-dwt Bow Saga(built 2007) in the Gulf of Aden on Tuesday has incensed shipping body Intertanko which said owners and crew were likely to feel let down by the decision.
Counter-piracy force EU NAVFOR took the decision to let go the seven pirates apprehended by troops from the Spanish warship SPS Victoria following the armed attack in the Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor (IRTC).
Explaining the rationale behind the decision, spokesperson Lieutenant Per Klingvall told TradeWinds that the main issue was a timing constraint imposed by Spanish law. As the arresting party was a Spanish warship, authorities had only 24 hours from the time of arrest until charges could be brought against the men.
A lack of a proper legal framework in Spain or Norway, as the flag state, to deal effectively with pirates meant the piracy body had to turn to Kenya as the only option. However, their efforts were thwarted by a public holiday in the East African country ahead of a referendum on Thursday.
This was a very special case,” Klingvall said of the issues which conspired against seeking any conviction against the men. “We really tried to get an agreement.”
Klingvall said EU NAVFOR would have had to have compiled all the relevant evidence, interviewed the ship’s master, found the correct person in Kenya to push through a prosecution and presented them with the evidence, all within 24 hours of the pirates’ arrest. A decision was taken just before the time had elapsed that this was not workable.
The seven men were taken by the Victoria to an undisclosed location in the north of the Horn of Africa on Wednesday afternoon. For operational reasons Klingvall was unable to disclose the exact location or say if the men were handed over to any authorities. The Victoria then returned to its mission in the IRTC.
Asked if this situation was likely to result from every arrest from a Spanish warship in the region, Klingvall disagreed, pointing to the public holiday in Kenya as the main spanner in the works this time around.
“We will learn from this and speed up the procedures. But every case is unique.”
When confronted with the criticism from Intertanko, the spokesperson replied:
“We stopped 29 sailors from being hostages but I’m not pleased that we were not able to prosecute the pirates”.
Prior to EU NAVFOR’s decision to release the men, Intertanko had issued a statement calling for their prosecution. On hearing of their release, the organisation quickly issued a second statement slamming the move.
“Releasing the Bow Saga pirates back to Somalia is a bitter blow to the shipping industry (and to its seafarers) in the global fight against piracy. This undoubtedly will also disappoint those governments that have encouraged the detention and prosecution of pirates.
“Intertanko and its members remain committed to assist in every way possible in bringing to justice those caught in the act of piracy.”
Jan Hammer, chief executive of Odfjell which has the Gearbulk-owned Bow Saga on charter, was not immediately available for comment on Thursday morning.