The first European trial of Somali pirates opens Tuesday in the Netherlands where five men risk up to 12 years in jail for allegedly seeking to hijack a cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden.
The suspects, aged 25 to 45, were arrested on January 2 last year after their high-speed boat with firearms was intercepted by a Danish frigate as they were allegedly preparing to board the Dutch Antilles-flagged Samanyolu.
The Netherlands issued European arrest warrants for the five three weeks later, and they were flown on a military plane from the Gulf state of Bahrain the following month to the Netherlands, where they have been in custody since.
A defence lawyer has said the five men would challenge the jurisdiction of Dutch courts to try the case.
The cargo vessel “was registered in the Dutch Antilles,” Haroon Raza told AFP.
The Antilles has its own justice system, “there is thus no reason to have a trial in the Netherlands.”
Raza, who represents alleged pirate Osman Musse Farah, said the men would also raise the length of their pre-trial detention.
“My client has a wife and two children; and one of them was born while he was in the Netherlands. He complains because he cannot answer their needs.”
At a hearing in May last year to determine whether the men should remain in custody, another lawyer for the suspects told the court “the pirates are poor fishermen who acted out of pure despair”.
But Ward Ferdinandusse argued for the prosecution at the time that “we mustn’t forget the interests of the ships and their crew who were shot at and held hostage”.
The trial is expected to last five days and judgment is set to be handed down on June 16, said Vincent de Winkel, a spokesman for the Rotterdam district court.
The men could be jailed for up to nine years, and their leader for up to 12 years.
According to the London-based International Maritime Bureau, which monitors maritime crime, pirates had attempted 217 attacks on merchant ships off the Somali coast in 2009, out of 409 pirate attacks worldwide.
Many of the suspects arrested in military operations in the Gulf of Aden in recent years have had to be set free for a lack of evidence.
“It is very difficult to obtain evidence against pirates unless they are caught in the act,” Bibi van Ginkel, a legal expert at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, Clingendael, told AFP.
“In the Gulf of Aden, fishermen also carry arms.”
Last Tuesday, a Yemeni court sentenced six Somali pirates to death and jailed six others for 10 years each for hijacking a Yemeni oil tanker and killing two cabin crew in April last year.