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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006, 16:01 GMT
Jail sentence for Somali pirates
Somali men charged with piracy in court in Mombasa, Kenya
The men said that they are fishermen, not pirates
Ten Somalis have been sentenced to seven years in jail for piracy and hijacking by a Kenyan court.

The men were arrested earlier this year by the US Navy which responded to a reported hijack off the Somali coast.

The pirates had maintained they were fisherman and had not held 16 crew members of an Indian ship for ransom.

Somalia's coastline is one of the world's worst areas for piracy, but incidents have declined since the Islamic courts rose to power in June.

The BBC's Odhiambo Joseph in Kenya's port city of Mombasa, where the trial took place, says the courtroom was packed ahead of the sentencing.

Silence fell as the accused walked into the dock, sat down with bowed heads and began praying in low tones.

The prosecution had urged the court to hand down life sentences as provided for under Kenyan law.

Immediately after the sentence was read out, the men clapped their hands and their faces brightened, our correspondent says.

But their lawyer says he will appeal against the seven-year terms, arguing that some of those convicted are minors.

Ransom

When the case opened in February, the suspects said they were fishermen and did not know why they had been "abducted" from their fishing boat.

But Indian sailors identified the men, who were caught by the US Navy in international waters, and said they had been tortured by them.

The pirates had demanded a ransom of $50,000 for their release.

The rescued Indian vessel was brought to Mombasa because it was the nearest port.

Somalia has been in the grip of warlords and militias for years and has not had a functioning national government since 1991.

The Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) has consolidated its control over much of southern Somalia after seizing the capital, Mogadishu.

The UIC was set up by businessmen who wanted to impose law and order, and their gunmen have become Somalia's strongest fighting force

The decline in piracy has also been attributed to foreign navy patrols.


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