WASHINGTON (AP) — Jurors in the piracy trial of a Somali man who served as a translator during a hostage siege heard him making demands on a recorded phone conversation with a negotiator for the ship's owner.
On the Nov. 12, 2008, call, which was played in Ali Mohamed Ali's trial this week, a negotiator for the Denmark company Clipper Group tells Ali that the two sides need to go back to negotiations and "not through threats like this one."
"No, no, no, no, no," Ali replies. "Listen, I'm telling you clearly what they are saying. I don't know how, how far they can go with it." He demands that the negotiator get back to him within a half-hour.
But the ship's captain, Andrey Nozhkin, who also participated in the call, testified that Ali whispered a comforting word to him after the call was over: "Bluffing." The two images — an aggressive negotiator and a calming presence — are at the center of Ali's trial. The government alleges that Ali negotiated a ransom on behalf of Somali pirates during a 2008 takeover of a Danish merchant ship in the Gulf of Aden, near the Horn of Africa. Ali's lawyers say he was essentially a prisoner himself and tried to help the crew as best he could.
Nozhkin, who wrapped up two days of testimony on Friday, said that at the time of the call — about five weeks into the ordeal — negotiations were at a dead end. The captain said that Ali had said if the pirates didn't get what they wanted, the ship's navigation equipment would be destroyed and the crew would be taken ashore.
Testifying for the government, Nozhkin recalled how Ali instructed him to make the call to the negotiator: "My speech was supposed to be emotional" so the company believed how serious the situation was. With one of the pirates pointing a gun at him, Nozhkin probably didn't have to do much acting. He said Ali gave him an "outline" of what to say, but Nozhkin also made it clear that some of the words weren't of his choosing.
Nozhkin, who is from Estonia, testified in Russian through a translator; although he speaks English, it's not his first language. But jurors heard him speaking English on the call, telling Clipper's negotiator, "Let them think about the crew also, otherwise they can lose not only the vessel but the crew also."
The pirates were "not bluffing," Nozhkin said on the call. "They're not joking. The negotiation is finished. You have to make an offer, OK?" Ali then gets on the phone and says, "You heard what he's saying and that's the truth. That (is) exactly what they want to do and it is your mistake by just dragging your feet."
Pirates had seized the M/V CEC Future in early November 2008, and Ali boarded the boat a couple of days later. Nozhkin described Ali as wearing "beautiful" white clothing, in contrast to the pirates' clothes, some of which looked like rags. Ali also had an expensive-looking suitcase and was treated with respect and curiosity by the pirates.
Nozhkin added that Ali made a point of saying he wasn't a pirate. Ali, an English speaker, soon contacted the company and relayed the pirates' demands, Nozhkin said, and also reviewed outgoing messages that the captain sent to the company.
Follow Fred Frommer on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ffrommer