Accessibility links

Somalis Face Piracy Trial in Germany

Presiding judge Bernd Steinmetz, left, opens the trial against ten alleged Somali pirates in Hamburg, northern Germany, 22 Nov. 2010

Pirates were put on trial in Germany on Monday in the first pirate trial to take place in the country for around 400 years. Ten Somali men are accused of trying to capture a German container ship earlier this year.

The group of 10 was arrested in April only a few hours after the hijacking of the German cargo ship.

Senior Public Prosecutor Wilhelm Moellers said Monday he has a strong case.

He said the prosecution had presented about 22 witnesses to the court and evidence including the confiscated weapons of the accused.

The prosecution says the accused approached the German ship "Taipan" on speedboats, opened fire and launched a rocket propelled grenade before boarding. The crew onboard hid in a "panic room" and escaped capture.

The defense issued a statement saying piracy is a result of political instability in Somalia and over fishing in the country's waters.

Peter Lehr is a researcher at the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at Scotland's University of St. Andrews. He says putting Somalis on trial for piracy in a Western court is not a good idea.

"If you actually bring a person from a Somali background, where you have to fight for survival on a daily basis, basically into a Western prison system with the outlook of being able to stay there after claiming for political asylum, that simply won't work," Lehr said.

One of the defense lawyers said Monday that so far only one of the defendants has claimed asylum - but he said he didn't know what would happen after the trial.

VOA asked Lehr if a legal remedy could help solve the problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia.

"It's better actually to bring about law and order on land in Somalia because that would result in the long run – in the long run mind you – in the decrease in piracy," he added.

The trial is expected to take several months. It's in a juvenile court because several of the accused say they were younger than 18 when the attempted hijacking happened. One of the defendants says he was only 13. If they are found guilty, they could face 15 years in prison.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, 23 vessels are currently being held by Somali pirates.