Mogadishu, Jan 16 (AFP) A Mogadishu court jailed 14Indian sailors for a year for illegally exporting charcoal,court sources said today.
The sailors were arrested last week by Somali coastguards. Nine of the 14 were present in court yesterday.
"The court sentenced 14 Indian sailors and a Somaliwoman" who was the owner of the charcoal, judge Hashi Elmi Nurtold AFP, adding that the sailors could avoid serving theprison term by paying USD 10,000 (7,500 euros).
In their defence, lawyer Hassan Abdule Farayare arguedthat because the charcoal had been exported from zonescontrolled by Islamic insurgents, the court was not competentto try the case.
"The boat and the crew members are not guilty becausethey exported charcoal from areas the government does notcontrol," he said.
It was the first time that a court had tried foreignnationals for illegally exporting charcoal.
Charcoal is an important source of revenue for thecountry''s Al Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels, which controlKismayo, the biggest port in the south of the country.
According to Andrew Mwangura, who heads the East AfricanSeafarers Assistance Programme and closely monitors illegalmaritime activity in the region, charcoal is one of the maincommodities transiting through Kismayo.
He estimated that the Shebab derive monthly revenue ofapproximately half a million dollars from berth, import andexport taxes in Kismayo alone.
Several other ships carrying charcoal are also believedto leave Somalia from the port of Barawe, further north.
Most of the charcoal smugglers use Indian dhows to taketheir cargo to Gulf states, notably the United Arab Emirateswhere the import of charcoal is not banned.
While charcoal exports have become a significant sourceof income for the Western-backed Somali government''s insurgentenemies, charcoal burning has also caused huge damage to theenvironment.
The resulting deforestation has complicated livestockherding in some regions and further exposed the population tothe impact of droughts. (AFP)