MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A Somali court has jailed six foreigners including three Britons and an American for illegally carrying millions of dollars into the country to pay ransoms for the release of vessels held by pirates.
Authorities in the Horn of Africa country, where a lack of effective central government has allowed piracy to boom off its shores, seized two aircraft carrying $3.6 million in the capital Mogadishu late last month.
"We sentenced the two pilots, who are American and British nationals, to fifteen years imprisonment and a $15,000 fine each," the Mogadishu court's judge Hashi Elmi told Reuters late on Saturday.
The charges were illegally bringing money into the country, carrying cash intended to pay ransoms and landing in Mogadishu without the correct papers.
The four others, among them two Kenyans, were handed ten years jail terms and fines of $10,000 each, Elmi said. The cash and two aircraft were now the property of Somalia's government, he added.
Maritime piracy costs the global economy up to $12 billion annually and has spawned numerous private security businesses offering armed protection for vessels and conducting ransom drops.
Cash ransoms are usually dropped onto captured vessels from light aircraft.
It was the first time Westerners have been sentenced for involvement in ransom payments. Elmi said the six might be able to buy their freedom.
"The men can appeal and if they ask to pay more instead of (remaining in) prison then we shall see and take our decision," Elmi said.
(Reporting by Mohamed Ahmed; Editing by Richard Lough)