Accessibility links

Alleged Somali Pirates Face Trial in Europe

  • Henry Ridgwell

A total of 10 alleged pirates are facing trial in Europe after being captured by the Dutch military off the coast of Somalia. One of the defendants is a boy, prompting criticism from human rights groups.

The team leader provides commentary on a recording of the moment Dutch marines stormed a hijacked ship in April off the coast of Somalia.

He says the alleged pirates were on the ship's bridge. As the marines moved closer, they discovered rocket-propelled grenades on board. But the operation ended with the suspects' surrender and arrest.

It is the opening phase of a new approach to tackling piracy in the courts as well as at sea.

The Dutch military transferred the alleged pirates to Amsterdam to appear in court. One suspect is only 12 to 13-years-old with a family in Somalia and who might have little connection to the other suspects.

"He is just a boy working in a local garage and his specialty is fixing outboard engines for boats," said Robert Malewicz, the boy's defense attorney. "And a couple of guys had a problem with their outboard engine and asked him to help them out, paid him good money, so he said, 'Yes, of course.' He is a poor guy. So this kid walked off with the guys on the boat. He fixed the engine and they said, 'You have to stay on board in case we have problems later on.' And before he knew it, he was on the big vessel."

The hijacked ship was German flagged, so the suspects have been extradited to Germany for trial. Five other alleged Somali pirates are on trial in Rotterdam in a separate case. They are accused of attacking a Dutch ship.

The trials represent efforts to solve the long-standing problem of what to do with pirate suspects captured at sea.

A Clingendael Institute expert in international law focusing on piracy, Bibi van Ginkel, explains that until now, most alleged pirates have been simply disarmed and released.

"They take them on board; they disarm them; they take their ladders; they give them some extra fuel; put them back in the boat, tell them off like, 'Don't do that anymore,' maybe. But actually, they are not arrested," said van Ginkel.

Even if those suspected of piracy are arrested, van Ginkel says, countries often refuse to take them in because of the expense and legal complications.

"Then there is also the problem of evidence. It is rather difficult to distinguish a pirate from a fisherman," added van Ginkel.

Governments are reluctant to put alleged pirates on trial because of the unclear legal process, complicated by the time and costs involved. War-torn Somalia lacks the stability and legal framework to carry out prosecutions. So for now, the seas off its coast will likely remain some of the most dangerous in the world.

XS
SM
MD
LG