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Pirates Prosecuted; A First For Togo

July 6, 2021 - 20:21:54 UTC

Pirates Prosecuted; A First For Togo

THE trial of nine pirates, held on Monday  [5 July] in Togo, is the first of its kind. The defendants present at the hearing were sentenced to terms ranging from 12 to 15 years in prison.

Naval Patrol

They are nine, seated in three rows facing the judges of the Assize Court of the Court of Appeal of Lomé, where their trial began on Monday. The face half hidden by the masks of rigor in this period of pandemic, the defendants, seven Nigerians and two Togolese, appear for "piracy", "willful violence" and "criminal association". They face up to 20 years in prison. Heads down, they were silent for most of the hearing, sometimes exchanging a few whispered words.

The nine men present - as well as a Ghanaian, against whom an international arrest warrant has been issued, and who will be tried in absentia [Editor: individual given a 20 year sentence] - are accused of having participated in the attempted hijacking of the tanker G-Dona 1, a ship belonging to a Beninese shipowner, on the night of May 11 to 19, 2019. The boat was in the Togolese anchorage area when the assault was launched. Once on board, the attackers threatened the crew - five Ghanaians, a Beninese and a Nigerian - in an attempt to hijack the boat.

Warning shots

Alerted by its unusual movements, the Togolese National Navy Operations Center attempted to contact G-Dona 1. During the hearing on Monday, devoted to the presentation of the charges against of the defendants, the prosecutor Garba Gnambi Kodjo affirmed that he had audio recordings of the conversation between the agents of the National Navy and one of the members of the crew. According to the prosecution, the latter would have assured, under threat, that the suspicious movements were due to maintenance work. But the explanation would not have convinced the Togolese authorities, who immediately launched a military operation.

A fast boat and two patrol boats carrying commandos of the French Navy were launched in pursuit of the tanker. "We carried out several warning shots at the ship, before the pirates decided to comply," reported an officer who came to testify at the bar. According to him, the pirates then "hid in a compartment of the ship" before "surrendering". To support his claims, the prosecutor also broadcast satellite images showing the unusual movements of the ship as well as images of the assault led by naval commandos.

The "brain" denies

On the dock, facing Judge Dindangue Kominte who pressed them with questions, only one Togolese pleaded guilty. The others, after having admitted the facts during the investigation, all denied at the bar having participated that night in an act of piracy. According to Peter Paul, a Nigerian presented by the prosecution as the "brains" of the operation, he and his acolytes were indeed on board the ship, but in the context of a purchase of fuel, for which they had specially rented a canoe from a Togolese company.

The unusual movements of G-Dona 1 would have been caused only by the operations intended to transfer the fuel from the tanker to the cans brought on board the canoe ... Except that the investigators claim not to have found any cans in the boat defendants.
Above all, the version of Peter Paul contrasts singularly with that given by the members of the crew during the training. According to them, the gang took possession of the bridge and did not hesitate to point weapons at the crew and the captain, forcing him in particular to change course.

Faced with the upsurge in piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, which in recent years has become the most dangerous maritime area in the world, Lomé has greatly strengthened their penal arsenal. But so far, no pirate has been prosecuted in Togo.

The nine defendants whose trial was held on Monday risked twenty years in prison. At the end of the hearing, the court was particularly harsh against Peter Paul. The "mastermind" of the pirate gang was sentenced to 15 years in prison, a sentence accompanied by a five-year stay ban on Togolese territory and a fine of 50 million CFA francs.

Six other members of the team that launched the assault on G-Dona 1 in May 2019 were sentenced to 12 years in prison, with 5 years of ban on stay for foreigners or the privatization of civil rights for the Togolese. Each of them will also have to pay 25 million CFA francs in damages. Only one of the defendants present was acquitted: the Togolese national from whom the canoe that was used to carry out the operation had been rented.

The Ghanaian, still on the run, was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison and a fine of 50 million CFA francs. All now have eight days to appeal.

Source: Jeune Afrique [Translated] 



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