French courts jail six Somali pirates for kidnapping couple

A Paris court yesterday convicted five of six Somali men on trial for kidnapping the two-person crew of a yacht after hijacking it off the African country's coast three years ago.

The court handed down sentences of between four and eight years in prison against the five, while charges were dropped against a sixth defendant. The trial was France's first against pirates who have made a lucrative business of capturing foreign vessels and taking hostages around the Gulf of Aden.

The six were on trial over the hijacking of the sailboat, Carre d'As, in September 2008 and taking its husband-and-wife crew hostage. A French navy team raided the vessel two weeks later, killing one captor and detaining six others. As the trial came to a close, the defendants apologised to and exchanged handshakes with the couple, Jean-Yves and Bernadette Delanne. One wished long lives for the Delannes, while another asked for their forgiveness.

The prosecutor had sought sentences of six to 16 years in prison. The case was heard in a Paris court for minors because one of the defendants was a minor at the time of the attack.

The six defendants, now aged between 20 and 36, described themselves as fisherman, electricians, students or jobless. Three were charged with hijacking the vessel, and all six charged with taking the couple hostage with the aim to win a ransom. The maximum possible penalty was life in prison.

The prosecution claimed the hijackers demanded a $4m (£2.5m) ransom, later lowered to $2m, and threatened to kill the captives if forces intervened.

The acquitted defendant, nicknamed "the fisherman" in the trial, is entitled to a payment from the French state in compensation for time served in provisional custody.