Three Somali pirates went on trial Monday for the 2009 hijacking of a French yacht which prompted a rescue operation by elite forces in which the skipper died.
French troops stormed the Tanit sailboat on April 10, 2009 and captured the trio during a bid to free Florent Lemacon, his wife, their three-year-old son and two others.
French commandos killed two pirates but also accidentally shot dead Florent Lemacon during the operation.
On the first day of the trial in the northwestern city of Rennes, the young defendants described a life of poverty in Somalia that they say eventually led to them to piracy.
One said he lost his livelihood following the devastating 2004 tsunami, which affected his coastal community by destroying fishing boats and depleting fish stocks.
Another said he started struggling in 2005, when a severe famine killed a lot of his livestock.
Just as the three were struggling to make ends meet several years later in 2009, pirates helped them out, giving them clothes and even drugs, and then $100 to get a "job" done, they said.
Grabbing kalashnikovs, they went to sea with two others and tried – and failed – to hijack a cargo ship. So they resorted to storming the Tanit, a 42-feet sailboat.
Speaking in court, Mahamud Abdi Mohamed, who does not know if he is 26 or 27, said he grew up in a family of nomads. His father died "by accident" from a bullet wound when the defendant was 8.
When he turned 12, he started tending to the family's goats, but resorted to fishing when he lost almost all the animals in 2005.
"There was no other job than fishing, my only concern was to feed my family, I risked my life because I didn't know how to swim," he said, adding he did not know the job offered to him in 2009 involved piracy.
The two other defendants, aged 31 and 29, were both also struggling fishermen.
The lawyer for Lemacon's widow Chloe, Arnaud Colon de Franciosi, said earlier Monday that the family was "traumatised and shocked but at the same time wanted justice".
Chloe Lemacon was angry with the French state for ordering a "dangerous operation," he said.
The Lemacons left the northwestern French port of Vannes in 2008 for a journey to Zanzibar. They were taken hostage on April 6, 2009 off the Somali coast.
France has taken a tough line on pirates caught by its forces in the waters off East Africa, where pirates have seized dozens of mainly merchant vessels for ransom in recent years.