In a letter from the Attorney General dated Sep 20, the prosecution offered the lesser alternative charge after it refused one of the accused’s application to strike out the charges.
The new charge under Section 32(1)(a) of the Firearms Act (Act 260) is punishable by life in prison, or a maximum 14 years prison, while the original charge carries the mandatory death penalty.
Counsel Edmund Bon said the defence was in the process of going over the plea bargain to the lesser charge.
“As the earlier charge involves the death penalty, we need time to get instructions from our clients,” said Bon, adding that defence had just got a translator for their clients, who do not speak English or Malay.
DPP Mohd Abazafree Mohd Abbas also requested more time to prepare documents should the Somalians plead guilty to the alternate charge.
Prosecutors later told reporters they would be sending subpoenas to 111 witnesses.
High Court judge Kamardin Hashim vacated the trial that was set to continue on Wednesday, and fixed Oct 8 for mention.
On Monday, the court ruled that it has the authority to hear the case, dismissing the application by one of the accused to quash the charges.
The seven were charged last year for the offence allegedly committed between 8.10pm and 10pm on the Bunga Laurel ship off Oman waters on Jan 20 last year.
Three of them are 16-year-olds while the four adults are Ahmed Othman Jamal, 26, Abdil Eid Hasan, 21, Koore Mohamed Abdile, 19, and Abdi Hakim Mohd Abdi, 19.
The case was transferred to the High Court on April 14 last year.
The pirates’ alleged attempt to hijack the tanker, which was carrying an estimated RM30mil in lubricating oil and ethylene dichloride, was foiled by the Royal Malaysian Navy after a shootout.
All 18 pirates surrendered and three were reportedly injured in the shootout.
The Bunga Laurel is a tanker registered in Panama, chartered by a Malaysian company and crewed by 23 Filipinos.
The Malaysian navy vessel was accompanying the ship to protect it through the notoriously pirate-infested waters.
The crewmen were unharmed.