Somali admits in U.S. court to ship hijacking
NEW YORK |
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Somali man pleaded guilty in a U.S. court on Tuesday to charges of hijacking, kidnapping and hostage-taking in last year's takeover of the Maersk Alabama container ship and two other vessels in the Indian Ocean.
Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse also agreed not to challenge a potential term of nearly 34 years in prison when he is sentenced in Manhattan federal court on October 19 over the foiled attack on April 8, 2009.
The captain of the Maersk Alabama, Richard Phillips, was held hostage on a lifeboat for several days after he volunteered to go with the pirates in exchange for the crew. Phillips was rescued when U.S. Navy snipers killed three pirates and captured Muse.
Muse said "God knows that I have taken what has been told me" and "Yes, I remember" when Manhattan federal court Judge Loretta Preska asked him if he remembered being told about the sentencing guideline of 27 years to 33 years and nine months under his plea agreement with U.S. prosecutors.
Muse's exact age is unknown but his lawyers lost a bid to have him tried as a minor. He spoke in court through a Somali interpreter and told the judge he understood he could not challenge another judge's ruling that he be tried as an adult.
He had previously pleaded not guilty to the charges.
"With the use of guns, we took control of the ship and seized the captain and the men on the boat," said Muse's statement to the court prepared by his lawyers.
"What we did was wrong. I am very sorry for all of this. It happened because of the situation in Somalia."
Pirates operating off the coast of the northeast African country, which has been mired in violence and without an effective government since 1991, have stepped up hijacking attacks on vessels in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.
They have made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms by seizing ships, including tankers, despite the presence of dozens of foreign naval vessels.
Muse waived his right to appeal his conviction and sentencing after admitting to charges of seizing a ship by force, conspiracy to seize a ship by force, hostage-taking, conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
The case is USA v Muse, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 09-512.
(Reporting by Grant McCool; Editing by John O'Callaghan)
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