PARIS: Six Somalis went on trial in a Paris court yesterday, charged with taking the 30 crew of luxury sailing ship Le Ponant hostage in the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden in 2008.

The six men face life in prison if convicted of kidnapping and gang theft after they were arrested on land in a French airborne operation after a ransom was paid. Only one admits to being a pirate, two admit to having been aboard the elegant 88m three-master, but only to sell goats, cigarettes and the mild narcotic khat. The other three deny ever having set foot on the boat.

As the trial began, the accused, through interpreters, gave their names and professions as four fishermen, a taxi driver and an accountant.

A week after the ship was taken, the ship’s owner paid a $2.15 million (R15.5m) ransom, the crew were freed and the pirates fled into Somalia. France hunted the pirates, eventually intercepting a 4x4 vehicle and finding $200 000 and weapons on board.

The six passengers were arrested and Le Ponant crew members identified them as the pirates, although some crew have since said they are unsure of the hijackers’ identities. One of the defendants’ lawyers

suggested some of those held had simply been travelling in the vehicle when it was stopped. – Sapa-AFP