Suspected Somali pirates appear in top security Dutch court for hearing on transfer to Germany

By Mike Corder, AP
Friday, May 21, 2010

Germany requests transfer of piracy suspects

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A group of suspected Somali pirates arrested last month by Dutch marines in a daring high-seas rescue operation appeared in court Friday to fight their extradition to Germany, where prosecutors want to put them on trial.

Prosecutors in the German port city of Hamburg have issued arrest warrants for the nine men and one boy because they were detained aboard a German container ship they had hijacked in the Gulf of Aden on April 5.

Their case is a rare example of Somali piracy suspects being transferred to Europe for trial after being arrested by an international armada shepherding aid and freight ships through the pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia.

Hanneke Festen of the Amsterdam Public Prosecutor’s Office said she expects they will be handed over under European Union rules governing the transfer of suspects.

Lawyers for the men argue that because they were questioned by Dutch authorities after their arrest they should be tried in the Netherlands.

“The Netherlands has already started proceedings against them and therefore it is a Dutch case,” Michiel Balemans, who represents four of the men, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Festen rejected that argument, saying any talks they had with Dutch marines who arested them were “for military intelligence” and not part of any Dutch criminal case.

“In the nine days it took to transfer them they were never charged, so a Dutch prosecution was never started,” she said.

Nine of the Somalis are adults and the 10th is a minor believed to be 14 years old, Festen said. One of the men waived his right to appear, so only nine were in court Friday.

Judges will announce their decision June 4. There is no right of appeal.

Dutch marines slid down ropes out of a helicopter to retake the German-flagged ship MV Taipan. The ship’s crew had taken cover in a locked safe room after the armed pirates hijacked the vessel about 800 kilometers (500 miles) east of Somalia.

The initial hijacking and subsequent rescue left the ship’s bridge riddled with bullet holes. However, nobody was seriously hurt in the Dutch operation — the pirates all dropped their weapons and surrendered when confronted by the heavily armed Dutch boarding party.

International navies who catch pirates while patrolling the waters off lawless Somalia often dump the bandits’ weapons overboard and put them back in their boats with enough food and fuel to reach the coast because of difficulties prosecuting them.

That problem eased this week when Kenya announced it will resume taking piracy suspects from the international fleet for trial.

Earlier this year, Kenya stopped accepting suspects, saying they put undue strain on the country’s justice system. That decision left more than two dozen Somali pirates scooped up by U.S. and European warships sitting in legal limbo on the high seas.

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