A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Friday sentenced 10 pirates to 12 years imprisonment each for hijacking a Chinese fishing vessel, FV Hai Lu Feng II, in May 2020.

Justice Ayokunle Faji also ordered each pirate to pay a fine of N1 million each.

The judge convicted each man on all of the counts 1, 2, 3 and 4 as charged.

The convicts, said to be resident in Nigeria, are: Frank Abaka, Jude Ebaragha, Shina Alolo, Joshua Iwiki, David Akinseye, Ahmed Toyin, Shobajo Saheed, Adekole Philip, Matthew Masi and Bright Agbedeyi.

They were arraigned by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) on July 13, 2020 on a four-count charge bordering on hijacking of the vessel in international waters off the coast of Cote D’Ivoire.

They pleaded not guilty, and were remanded in the custody of the Nigerian Navy, following which trial commenced.

Delivering his judgment on Friday, Justice Faji said the prosecution proved its case beyond reasonable doubt that the pirates did hijack the vessel, FV Hai Lu Feng II, belonging to Haina Fishing Company.

The judge held: “I agree with the prosecution counsel Labaran Morggji that the prosecution has proved the essential ingredients of the offence committed by each of defendants; the defendants conspired to commit the illegal act.

“All the defendants acted in hijacking the ship to achieve their common goal.

“Consequently I find each of the defendants guilty as charged in all the counts.

“Each defendant is hereby sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.

“In addition, the defendants should pay a fine of N1million each.

“The offence committed by the defendants affects the wellbeing of Nigerians and our image in the diaspora.

“The naira sum, dollars and various currencies recovered from the defendants by the Nigerian Navy are hereby forfeited to Federal Government of Nigeria.”

The defendants were arrested in May this year by the Nigerian Navy, which handed them over to the government.

In the course of the trial, the government told the court that the defendants “while armed with weapons, committed an illegal act of violence against the crew on board FV Hai Lu Feng II belonging to Haina Fishing Company by putting them in fear in order to take control of the vessel.”

Prosecution counsel Laraban Magaji said they violated Section 3 of Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act, 2019, punishable under Section 2 of the same Act.”

Reacting to the landmark judgement, Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh said that history has been made adding that a huge lacuna has been filled in the battle against maritime crimes in Nigeria and the entire Gulf of Guinea.

According to the DG, “today history has been made, our industry has made a huge leap in the battle to rid our maritime domain of illegalities. We are not going to rest on our ours as we now have a tested legal instrument like the SPOMO ACT which is a major tool in Nigeria’s quest to end Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea”

“In the course of the trial, the government told the court that the defendants “while armed with weapons, committed an illegal act of violence against the crew on board FV Hai Lu Feng II belonging to Haina Fishing Company by putting them in fear in order to take control of the vessel.”

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