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|August 19, 2002|
The Rediff Special/Syed Firdaus Ashraf
Mintadoa is not alone. Along with him are 14 other alleged Indonesian pirates, all of whom were nabbed by the Coast Guard and the navy for venturing into Indian waters and opening fire on them.
They have been charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, such as 395 for dacoity, 397 for robbery with weapons, 307 for attempt to murder, and 465 for cheating with mala fide intention. They are also being held under laws relating to the Indian Passport Act and the Indian Admiralty Act.
Mintadoa and his 14 colleagues (one of whom died in an Indian prison) were on the merchant navy vessel Megha Rama. The ship left Manila, the Philippines, on November 2, 1999, en route to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, carrying 7,000 tonnes of aluminium ingots.
Mintadoa claims that neither he nor his colleagues knew they were boarding a vessel, earlier called Alandro Rainbow, which had been hijacked on October 22, 1999. Mintadoa claimed the company that hired him to deliver the consignment to Dubai had cheated him.
"They are innocent people. They were just given a job to do and they were doing their job of dropping the consignments. They don't have any criminal records," says defence counsel Santosh Deshpande.
Sitting on the platform made for the accused, all 14 looked clueless as to what was going on as they could not speak or understand English or any Indian language. They only know Bahasa Indonesia.
Indonesian vice-consul Irzani Ratni is often present in the court to assist the accused. The Indonesian consulate has provided a translator, M D'Souza, a retired staff member of the consulate in Mumbai, to translate the court proceedings for the benefit of the accused.
The accused in the case are Christianus Aeros Mintadoa, Eka Dharma, Estafanus Homiang Harson Homian, Frans Junus Umboh, Dandung Ari, Burhan Nanda, Erick Prathama, Dennis Supandi, Christo Matias Goha, Peither Randa Buengg, Johan Kanthohe, Devidwandra Parta, Richardo John, and Imbron Rossadi. Anton Yenes Albarto Yenes died in custody.
Besides them, there are others who are absconding. They are Yan Yance Makatengkena, Range, Marnez Sachawarus, Boss (name not known), Ating Ting, and 21 others, who are believed to have disembarked from the ship at an earlier port.
According to the prosecution, the entire bunch hijacked the Alandro Rainbow on October 22, 1999, somewhere between Milke in Japan, from where it set sail, and Indonesia. And the 15 accused who were arrested in India were planning to sell the remaining aluminium ingots at Karachi, Pakistan. The ingots are worth Rs 440 million!
The prosecution further alleges that all the accused had planned to kill the Japanese vessel's crew after hijacking the ship and sent them adrift in a small boat in the middle of the sea off Indonesia.
Public prosecutor Pradeep D Gharat further says, "All the 15 arrested had fired at Indian Coast Guard and naval vessels at 300 nautical miles from Mumbai. When they were told to surrender, they tried to sink the ship by opening the chest valve. But navy divers took timely action and sealed the valve before it [the vessel] could sink."
The Japanese captain of the vessel, Ko-Ikeno, has come to Mumbai and is among the witnesses. According to the defence counsel, the Japanese captain did not recognize any of the accused in custody, saying it was dark when his vessel was hijacked. Moreover, the pirates were wearing masks and they blindfolded Ko-Ikeno and the crew.
The sessions court judge, R R Vachha, has heard the 24 witnesses and the prosecution arguments against the 14 accused. And now it is the turn of the defence to argue its case. If the accused are convicted, the minimum sentence is two years' rigorous imprisonment. The maximum is life imprisonment.
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