Monday, November 30, 2009

Three Burmese once sold into slavery turn to piracy

Not a happy story. I read today that there are roughly two million Burmese illegally in Thailand, seeking out a living anyway they can. Others flee to Malaysia. Some are declared as refugees and come to this or other nations. Of course, they are not all political dissidents, not even all who claim to be. But this gives some idea of what they risk when they leave their homeland. It also reminds people that slavery is not a thing of the past. It's a little sad to think that no one even seemed to find their names important enough to put in the article and the story probably wouldn't have even been reported except a rich European was a victim in the case. The whole thing is tragic with nothing good about it.

Teenage pirates sentenced in Thai court
Published: Nov. 30, 2009 at 10:55 AM

BANGKOK, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- A Thai court has handed down 25-year sentences to three Burmese teenage pirates for murdering a British yachtsman off the coast last March.

Malcolm Robertson, 64, was beaten with a hammer during a struggle on board his 44-foot yacht "Mr. Bean," named after a string of coffee shops he owned near London in the United Kingdom.

His body was thrown overboard off the Andaman coast and the pirates then tied up his wife, Linda. The pirates, ages 19, 18 and 17, remained on board for nearly 10 hours before fleeing in a dingy with electronic goods.

Thai fishermen found Robertson's body 10 miles north of Satun's Lipeh Island, along the coast south from Phuket, a week later.

Both the Robertsons were qualified yacht masters who had sailed around the world, had been married for 25 years and had four children and seven grandchildren.

The sentence could have been up to 50 years each, according to local media reports, but it was reduced because they were remorseful and pleaded guilty.

Linda Robertson, 59, welcomed the sentence, according to a report on the BBC World Service news Web site. "I don't want to trivialize Malcolm's death but I don't think 25 years in a Thai prison is going to be pleasant for them. I do hope the time they spend in jail will help them reflect and realize the heinous crime they committed.

"I also believe they were victims themselves. I don't think they had any plan. The fact that they didn't kill me, which they could quite easily have done, shows some compassion from them."

A Western journalist at the trial reported that the three teenagers were not always referred to as pirates because of their circumstances. Defense lawyers said the Burmese boys, who had also spent time in Thai detention centers for illegal immigrants, had been sold to Thai fishing boat owners.

They reportedly jumped ship near the coast and swam to the small island off Koh Adang in the Tarutao National Marine Park, from where they attacked the Robertsons' boat, which had been moored close to land.

The fishermen in the southern area of Thailand have a history of cooperating with, but also engaging in acts of piracy against, illegal boat people, mostly from Vietnam during the 1980s.

Many of the boat people are taken to work on fishing boats that also act as transport for smuggling operations, according to reports by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. At the height of the boat-people exodus from Vietnam, around half of the occupants of Vietnamese boats were subject to rape and abduction attacks.

On the open seas Thai-registered large commercial fishing boats have also been subject to pirate attacks. Thai authorities are still looking for the Union 3 fishing boat and its crew that was attacked off the coast of Africa at the end of October.

Somali pirates on two small boats attacked and boarded the vessel north of the Seychelles and off the coast of Somalia, the EU Naval Force reported.

A patrol aircraft spotted the boat 230 miles north of the Seychelles and headed for the Somali coast.

Thai Union Frozen Products, the country's largest producer of canned and frozen seafood, said the Union 3 was one of its four vessels in the area. The company said it was most concerned for the 25 crew, none of whom were Thai nationals.

The Union 3 is the third fishing ship from Thailand seized in the area in the past year. The EU Naval Force estimates that Somali pirates are holding eight vessels somewhere along the African coast.

© 2009 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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