Somali Pirates on Trial in Paris
Seven Somali men accused of hijacking a French yacht in an assault in which its owner was killed and his wife abducted in the Arabian Sea four years ago appeared before a French court on Tuesday, all facing life sentences.
The men have not been charged with homicide, but with hijacking - a crime punishable with life imprisonment - as well as theft, abduction and illegal confinement, according to Martin Pradel, the lawyer of one of the suspected attackers.
The trial, set to last two weeks, is the latest in a series of judicial cases in France involving maritime piracy abroad.
The men on trial are all aged between 25 and 32 years.
Jury members and magistrates at the Paris court will aim to establish responsibilities during the attack in September 2011 that led to a shooting in which the French skipper, Christian Colombo, aged 55, was killed.
His wife was abducted for two days in what French media described as horrendous conditions before being rescued by Spanish naval forces in a raid on a skiff off the coast of Yemen. The seven suspects were captured during the raid, another two were killed.
The couple were sailing from Yemen to Oman on a trip around the world when gunmen seized their yacht. A German warship, the FGS Bayern, found the couple's catamaran the Tribal Kat, adrift, and the E.U. Atalanta naval command launched an air and sea search.
Evelyne Colombo told her rescuers that the assailants had dumped her husband's body in the sea after he was killed. Christian Colombo is a former French navy crewman and the couple were experienced sailors who wanted to see the world and were passing through the Gulf of Aden en route for the Indian Ocean and eventually Thailand.
A French couple was kidnapped from a yacht in September 2008 in the Gulf of Aden. Ransom was paid, but French commandos later ambushed the pirates, killing one, capturing six and recovering the ransom money.
Another French yacht was seized in April 2009. Special forces troops intervened, and in the ensuing gun battle a French bullet accidentally killed the yacht’s skipper.