News / Africa

Somali Pirates May be Heading to German Court

Lisa Bryant

A group of 10 suspected Somali pirates are in the Netherlands - and likely  heading to Germany shortly to face trial. Their case is unusual - many alleged pirates are released. VOA reports on the international legal quagmire surrounding piracy off the Horn of Africa.

As piracy has exploded off the Horn of Africa so has the international quandary about what to do with suspected pirates. Many are arrested, notably by the European Union's anti-piracy unit, and have simply been disarmed and released.

But for some 10 suspected pirates who arrived in the Netherlands Wednesday, it's different. Germany has requested their extradition to try them in German courts.

Roger Middleton is an Africa analyst at Chatham House policy institute in London:

"The unique situation here is that the Germans are trying it because those pirates attacked a German vessel with I think a German crew on board, so there's a clear national interest in this case," Middleton said.

Another alleged Somali pirate was sent to the United States last year, to face trial in New York.

But too often, Middleton says, countries whose ships have been attacked by Somali pirates are reluctant to try them in their own territory - an expensive and complicated process. Trying them in Somalia is out of the question, since the country lacks a functioning government.

If the suspects are not released, they have very often been sent to Kenya for trial. But Nairobi has recently expressed reluctance about taking on new piracy cases, arguing its criminal justice system is already overburdened.

So what to do?

Pottengal Mukundan, director of the London-based International Maritime Tribunal, believes the international community should help strengthen the judicial systems in the semi-autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland.  

"The ideal solution is to try the pirates in Somalia so that it is seen as the local community punishing its own criminals," Mukundan said. "There you get the right deterrent effect. When pirates are taken very far away - to Europe or the US - back home they are considered, perhaps, to be heroes rather than the criminals they are."

Others are pushing for an international criminal court to try the pirates - such as those established in The Hague for major war crimes.

But analyst Middleton believes the right solution is a form of international burden sharing.  

"It's not fair that Kenya is the only country that is asked to prosecute pirates although they receive quite a lot of international assistance for this. There has to be some burden taken by the naval countries - by the European and American countries that are involved," Middleton said.

Middleton says India, Tanzania or the Seychelles could also try some of the pirates.

Analysts believe piracy will continue to plague the Horn of Africa so long as Somalia's political situation remains in turmoil. Which means the problem of bringing pirates to justice will not go away.

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