MOMBASA, Kenya (codewit) – Kenyan prosecutors charged 17 Somali men with piracy on Thursday, a day after the U.S. Navy handed them over to authorities there.
There are now 111 suspected pirates being held in Kenya, and police say the influx is clogging jails and courts. Local Muslim leaders say Kenya should not be used as a “dumping ground” and foreign navies should take charge of the people they arrest.
Prosecutors told a court in the port city of Mombasa that the 17 men were arrested as they attacked the Egyptian-flagged merchant ship MV Amira.
“The suspects are charged that on May 13, upon the high seas of the Indian Ocean, while armed with offensive weapons namely six AK 47 rifles, one pistol, one GPS and one Somali sword, they attacked a merchant ship … (and) put the lives of the crew in danger,” the prosecutor’s charge sheet said.
The suspects were not represented by a lawyer and denied the charge.
Police have said some of the suspected pirates could be transferred to Nairobi to ease the pressure on Mombasa’s jails.
“We do not know when these piracy cases will end but the high rate at which they are being arrested and handed over to us, transferring the cases to Nairobi might be the only option remaining,” said Sebson Wandera, a senior police officer.
International navies trying to curb piracy off Somalia are often reluctant to take suspects to their own countries because they either lack the jurisdiction to put them on trial there, or they fear the pirates may seek asylum.
The European Union, United States and some other countries have instead struck agreements with Kenya to hand over suspects to face trial there. Some pirates are being prosecuted in France and the Netherlands.
In Kenya, 10 pirates are serving a seven-year jail term at a prison in Voi, near Mombasa. (Editing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura)